<
>

3-pointer: Defense is coming around

Coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged that the beat-up nature of the Detroit Pistons made Tuesday's game one the Dallas Mavericks should win, but he also pointed out that you still have to do the right things or a team on a losing skid will bite.

"We’re on the road, we will take it," guard Jason Terry said after the 100-86 victory. "We have a big game tomorrow night."

Dallas did all the right things in building a 28-point third-quarter lead and now the focus shifts to tonight's tougher assignment against a Boston Celtics team that hasn't played since losing at home to Indiana on Friday night to fall to 3-1 at TD Garden.

As that anticipated matchup approaches, here's three things to c0nsider:

1. Defense improving: After that horrid three-game start, the Mavs are slowly starting to sharpen their defensive chops. Dallas made it seven consecutive games of limiting its opponent to fewer than 100 points -- and holding five in the 80s -- after their first three opponents scored no fewer than 104. Dallas also started out dead last in the league in field-goal percentage defense, giving up better than 50 percent. That number has steadily declined and after holding Detroit to43.5 percent shooting (and lower for nearly the entire game until fourth-quarter garbage time), the Mavs have held those last seven opponents to 42.5 percent shooting. Accordingly, Dallas has won five of those seven games.

2. Can Dirk stay hot?: Dirk Nowitzki broke out of his two-game slump (5-of-22 for 16 points) by making his first six shots Tuesday and finishing 9-of-10 for 18 points against the Pistons. The opposing defense gets stiffer tonight against the Celtics and without Jason Kidd for a third consecutive game, odds are that the Mavs will need their leading scorer to again shoot a high percentage.

3. Delonte West goes about business: Starting at point guard for Jason Kidd (lower back), West set the tone Tuesday and finished with a Kidd-like 10 assists, a Mavs team high on the season and two off West's career best, and five steals. The performance came a day after the bizarre tale of West believing he was banned from visiting the White House with the team -- which the team initially confirmed -- only to have a Secret Service agent tell ABC News Monday morning that West was not banned at all and was indeed welcome to attend. West stayed away anyway and the Mavs offered no comment on the matter. West, a D.C., native apparently didn't mind, judging by his strong play against the Pistons. Tonight, he'll look to lead his new team past his former club, the Boston Celtics.