Mavs' offense is work in progress, not priority

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks enter the All-Star break as a mediocre offensive team and a dominant defensive team.

Yes, you read that right.

The Mavs rank first in field goal percentage allowed, third in defensive efficiency and fourth in points allowed entering the All-Star break after Wednesday’s 96-91 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Their respective ranks in the same offensive categories: 18th, 16th and 20th.

And the Mavs would much rather have it like that than the other way around.

A franchise that for so long was known for filling up the basket but being too soft on the defensive end has undergone a personality transplant over the last year and a half. The Mavs definitely don’t plan on going back, either, with a championship parade providing plenty of evidence that they’re taking the right approach.

“We’ll keep working at it,” coach Rick Carlisle said about the Mavs’ offensive kinks. “I’m not going to make offense the priority, though. That’s not going to happen.

“The team that has the best defense and flow game wins the championship. That’s the history of this league in the last 10 years, and that’s how we did it last year. That’s how we’re going to have to do it this year.”

That logic echoes throughout the Mavs’ locker room. This team features two 20,000-plus-point scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter and one of the league’s best off-the-bench gunners in Jason Terry.

Asked what needs to happen for the Mavs to play up to their offensive potential, they each made sure to mention that a commitment to defense needs to remain the top priority.

“I think we have enough weapons offensively,” Nowitzki said after scoring a game-high 25 points on 9-of-22 shooting, “but I think defense is going to carry us.”

Having said all that, the Mavs should be a much better offensive team with such a varied arsenal of scoring threats and one of the best passers of all-time in Jason Kidd orchestrating the offense.

At some point, the Mavs hope to get healthy enough to establish more chemistry and continuity in the rotation. At some point, the Mavs believe that several of their big guns will all begin firing at the same time instead of taking turns, as has been the case most often. At some point, they expect Lamar Odom to begin contributing on a relatively consistent basis.

“”We’ve got talented enough offensive players that we will figure it out,” said Terry, who had 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting against the Lakers. “We’ll find a way to get it done.”

Added Carter (20 points, 7-17 FG): “I think it’s going to come. We show flashes of it.”

Realistically, however, they understand that points might continue to be hard to come by in this crazy, lockout-compressed irregular season, when teams have precious little practice time to work on set plays.

“It’s gonna be a work in progress,” Nowitzki said. “There’s gonna be some nights when we don’t shoot the ball that well. It just happens this way, especially with so many games. You’re just not gonna have your legs some nights.

“Those are the nights when defense gotta carry us.”

The defense-first mentality has been embraced in Dallas, but the Mavs will be especially dangerous when and if the offense starts flowing again.