Mavs' defensive misery gives Carlisle 'the chills'

DALLAS -- Usually one of the league's premier bricklayers on free throws, Dwight Howard boasted that he "looked like Reggie Miller from the line" after knocking down 9 of 11 Wednesday night.

Nevertheless, an angry, sarcastic Rick Carlisle claimed he was happy he employed the Hack-a-Dwight strategy late in his Dallas Mavericks' shootout setback against the Houston Rockets.

"I don't know how many times they blew by us, but I'm glad we started fouling Howard, because I was starting to get the chills over there from all the blow-bys," Carlisle said after the Mavs' too-little, too-late rally fell short in a 117-115 loss at the American Airlines Center. "It saved our guys the embarrassment of getting blown by two or three times in a row."

If Dallas' players have any sort of defensive pride, those comments from Carlisle will sting.

Carlisle, who also mentioned he didn't think the Mavs played hard until they faced a double-digit deficit in the final few minutes, wasn't the only one who questioned the team's will to defend. Dirk Nowitzki also broached the subject without prompting after his 38-point, 17-rebound performance went to waste.

The Rockets had seven scorers in double figures, shot 55.4 percent from the field and had 56 points in the paint. Just imagine how bad it would have been had Rockets star James Harden suited up instead of sitting out because of a sore thumb.

This was ridiculous even by the sinking defensive standards of a Dallas squad that allows the most points per possession of any NBA team with a winning record this season.

"The defense was horrible all night," Nowitzki said. "I mean, every time down somebody was in the paint laying the ball up. On transition, on drives, pick-and-roll plays. If you give up 117 at the house, you're gonna lose."

Is the issue effort? Execution? Ability?

All of the above.

The Mavs must overachieve to be adequate defensively because the roster is so flawed. You won't find a worse defensive backcourt than the pairing of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis. Nowitzki's athletic limitations are well known. The Mavs are asking Shawn Marion to be a stopper at 35 years old. And they desperately need Samuel Dalembert, as maddeningly inconsistent a big man as there is in the league, to be a rim protector.

"You've got to have some pride and try to guard your man better," Nowitzki said. "And we've got to help. We know we don't have the individual greatest defenders in this league, so five guys have got to scramble and work together. Nothing new.

"We've had some good quarters, some good halves defensively, but we've got to do it every possession. Otherwise, we're not good enough."

On this night, Dalembert was a nonfactor after getting in early foul trouble, prompting Carlisle to publicly challenge him to be more disciplined. Ellis was in foul trouble, too, which is surprising in the sense that it means he got close enough to touch an opponent. Calderon played matador defense. Marion couldn't stop budding Houston star Chandler Parsons, who led the Rockets with 26 points.

And on and on the Mavs' defensive woes go.

"I know we can do better," Carlisle said. "I just know we can. We're just going to have to prepare guys better. We were running up too close to guys that are drive-first guys. That's my responsibility to make sure we don't do things like that."

It's also Carlisle's responsibility to motivate the Mavs to focus on defense. He's so frustrated that he has resorted to mocking their failures.