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Where It's At? Picking up the pace

The Dallas Mavericks take a five-game winning streak into Friday night's home game against the Houston Rockets. Wednesday's defensive effort in the second half against the OKC Thunder was a good example of how the Mavs plan on letting aggressive play on that end of the court be their primary calling card.

They held the Thunder to 38 points on 36-percent shooting in the half. Shawn Marion has been in stopper mode since the game against Atlanta, and he had a huge hand in neutralizing Kevin Durant, who suffered through a 4-for-18 night. And when Marion wasn't all up in it, it was Josh Howard in full-on denial mode.

The Mavs really picked up the pace in the fourth quarter and held the Thunder to eight points in the final five minutes while Jason Kidd was directing the Mavericks offense with prime efficiency, turning a close game into a solid 14-point victory.

But the Mavs have had lots of great defensive play in the second half recently. Holding opponents below 40-percent shooting in the period has been the norm since the New Jersey game. Only Phoenix has been able to fight through the Mavs' stingy final 24 efforts during that span to do damage.

Another interesting trend is how coach Rick Carlisle is finessing the player rotations. Dallas used an eight-man rotation Wednesday night, and Coach continued to bring Howard off the bench. J.J. Barea brought in a 15-point average as a starter (he was held to nine Wednesday), which means the duo of Jason Terry and Howard comes off the bench together. That’s a formidable bench tandem and certainly more interesting than JET and Barea, since those guys are more in the same vein.

I wouldn’t get too used to it, but who knows? If Barea can continue to hold his own as a starter, it's a huge advantage for Dallas against pretty much anyone in the league. It has really seemed to click in the second half, when Josh is playing some of his best fourth-quarter ball in recent memory.

The Mavericks will continue to tweak their defensive identity and massage the rotation against stiff competition through the end of the year as the Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers come in this weekend to up the ante on competition level.