Finals Frontier: Mavs must play team defense

With the NBA Finals in full swing, the Mavericks are watching two familiar foes -- the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat -- battle it out for the chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Both teams have key components that established them as championship contenders. Let's point out those components and how the Mavericks can learn from them.

Miami and San Antonio aren’t one-trick ponies. It’s been established that they are skilled and efficient on the offensive end of the floor, but both teams are equally skilled on the defensive end. The “defensive rating” is an advanced statistic that measures a team’s points allowed per 100 possessions.

Out of all NBA teams, there were only three that were ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season. Oklahoma City was one of the teams. The other two are in the Finals.

Miami ranked first in offensive efficiency with a rating of 110.3 and seventh in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.5. San Antonio was seventh in offensive efficiency with a rating of 105.9 and third in defensive efficiency with a rating of 99.2.

When it comes to defense, neither team has a dominant big man in the post who collects all of the rebounds or anchors the middle, so they mask that weakness by putting a stronger emphasis on contesting shots. The downside is that fouls tend to add up and fewer rebounds are collected. The risk is worth the reward because the opposing offense is disrupted with contested shots.

This season, Dallas had the 10th worst defensive efficiency in the league with a rating of 104.0. That rating was the third worst defensive mark for the Mavericks in the last 10 years.

With O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison as the perimeter defenders, the opposing team often had a clear path to the basket. The two guards being beaten by back cuts and off-ball screens that contributed to the Mavs' lackluster defensive effort.

During the 2011 title run, Dallas showed the defensive disposition that coach Rick Carlisle craves. The Mavs had the seventh best defensive efficiency with a rating of 102.3, their best during the last five seasons. While there were only three teams in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive ratings this season, there were only two teams in the top 10 in both categories in 2011: Dallas and Miami.

The Mavs had a true defensive anchor in Tyson Chandler. He was a solid last line of defense as his teammates gambled on the perimeter. The Mavs also played together on a string. By doing that -- which requires teamwork, coordination, trust and synchronicity -- they were a team with only one premiere defender but became a roster full of team defenders. It came down to the five players on the floor doing their job, being in position and being accountable.

Dallas’ flow offense is predicated on its ability to get stops. If the front office finds players who believe in playing on a string and bringing a strong defensive disposition, it will open things up on the offensive end of the floor. The Mavs don’t need a roster full of All-NBA defenders. They just need a set of players who will buy in to playing defense together as a team.

Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.