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Carlisle sharpens focus on TOs, transition D

DALLAS -- Referees were brought in for a live scrimmage Friday morning and on their way out, the refs were asked if there was any funny business going on out there.

"Flagrant two on Dirk Nowitzki," the one ref said.

Wow, talk about intensity. All kidding aside, the Dallas Mavericks are on Day 5 of their playoff hiatus as they eagerly await tonight's Game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies. A Thunder win gets the West finals started Sunday at the American Airlines Center. A Grizzlies win and that series goes to Game 7 on Sunday with the Game 1 of the WCF pushed back to Tuesday.

As coach Rick Carlisle seeks a balance between rest to stay fresh and activity to keep an edge, Friday was one of the more rigorous workouts of the week. And it had Carlisle paying close attention to three key areas: "Transition defense, taking care of the ball and rebounding," he said.

Primary focus has clearly been put on taking care of the ball and transition defense. The Mavs have been had their turnover woes this season, but during the postseason, they have been pretty stingy, coughing it up 12.3 times a game. Of the teams still alive, only the Miami Heat (11.9) turn it over, on average, less than the Mavs.

But, Dallas didn't exactly face teams that thrive on thievery in the first two rounds like they will against either OKC or Memphis in the next round. Memphis, the regular-season leader in steals per game, is doing it in the postseason, too, averaging a playoff-best 8.2 a game. The Thunder ranked second during the regular season and are just behind Memphis and Chicago (7.2) in the playoffs, with 6.9 steals a game. For comparison's sake, the Mavs ranked 23rd in the regular season in steals and are last among the playoff survivors (5.8).

With the speed both Memphis and OKC put on the floor, those steals typically wind up as two points.

"You never want to turn the ball over, but neither one of those teams [Portland Trail Blazers or Los Angeles Lakers] forced turnovers or get as many steals as these two teams do," Carlisle said. "That said, make or miss, or turnover, you’ve got to get back fast because both of these teams are firing major athletes at you, great speed and quickness at three or four positions. Transition defense has got to be a mindset, just like rebounding. Taking care of the ball, it kind of goes without saying, but if we turn the ball over in this next series, we’ll lose."