Opening Tip: How can Mavs fix defense?

The Mavs have many defensive issues that need to be addressed to have a shot against the Blazers. Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS -- A simple question stumped Dirk Nowitzki: What’s the easiest thing to fix about the Mavericks’ defense?

“I’m speechless, bro,” Nowitzki said after the Mavs’ 115-110 loss to the Denver Nuggets, who scored 41 points in the first quarter and 36 in the fourth.

After thinking for a moment, Nowitzki identified a long list of defensive issues Dallas needs to address.

“We’ve just got to keep people in front of us,” Nowitzki said. “They’re very good in transition. It felt like somebody shot and we just had four guys watching. Our guards have got to sprint back. There were just layups after layups. We’ve got to keep the ball in front of us. We’ve got to be better on pick-and-roll coverage. We’ve got to find the shooters.

“I mean, you can start wherever you want.”

The Mavs better get to work right away. They’ll try to stop the bleeding of their first three-game losing streak of the season Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, who are tied for the league lead in scoring at 107.7 points per game.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Nowitzki said, “but we just need to compete.”

Coach Rick Carlisle sees that core requirement of competing as the Mavs’ primary concern defensively. X’s and O’s are irrelevant on defense if intensity is nonexistent.

“It’s going to take anger and resolve on every defensive possession over the next 20 games for us to get to the hump and get over the hump,” Carlisle said.

That’s not to ignore the flaws of a roster that pairs two poor defenders in the starting backcourt, asks a 35-year-old to be a multi-position stopper and counts on a journeyman big man picked up off the free agency scrap heap to be the backbone.

The Mavs have known since the roster was constructed this summer that it’d be a challenge to be decent defensively. It’s no surprise that they rank 23rd in defensive rating (105.9 points per game), above only teams that are battling for lottery ping pong balls. That rating soars to 113.7 during Dallas’ three-game losing streak.

The Mavs have to work hard to be average defensively. When they don’t work hard, to use Nowitzki’s words, they can get torched by anybody.

And the Blazers aren’t just anybody. They’re an elite offensive team that put up 127 points during their last visit to the American Airlines Center.

Great effort might not be enough for the Mavs to slow down the Blazers. But Dallas is surely doomed if the Mavs go through the defensive motions again.