In days of yore, the Dallas Mavericks were a fast-paced run-and-gun ball club. Led by their big three of Nash, Nowitzski, and Finley, the Mavericks had little to no trouble winning in the season as they let offense dictate their games. However, despite their successful records, they were still regarded as soft and the lack of defense always led to disappointment in the playoffs. It would be ludicrous to call the team a postseason Western powerhouse…until now. With the dismissal of Don Nelson and the arrival of Avery Johnson, the Dallas Mavericks currently own the best record in the West and are now showing signs of defensive pressure. Why is it coming together for them now despite Nash’s (last year’s MVP) departure to the Suns and deadeye shooter Finley’s departure to the Spurs?

For some reason, I never liked the Dallas Mavericks. Though exciting, one knew something was wrong when they beat everyone except the Spurs, the Lakers, etc. Ironically, the scenario is the exact opposite this season. Why are the Dallas Mavericks successful this season?

The Mavericks are playing defense: Two years ago, the Mavericks began showing signs of playing defense. However, by the end of the season, the Mavericks began losing games because they were not capable of playing proper defense consistently, so Nelson utilized a lineup composed of quick and small players. He hoped the extra speed would springboard what the Mavs did best, play offense. Crafty Don Nelson utilized a “small ball” strategy. Despite a playoff berth, the Mavericks’ lack of interior defense was made apparent by their first round loss to the Kings. Next season was no different as Amare Stoudemire’s post dominance resulted in a 2-4 loss to the Suns. It was time to change for the Mavericks and Marc Cuban knew this. What did he do in the next two seasons? Nelson was replaced by understudy Avery Johnson, both Nash and Finley exercised their free agency elsewhere, and defensive-minded players Jason Terry and Erick Dampier were acquired in the off-season. The result: a team with a 43-11 record that ranks in the middle in terms of team defense.

The Mavericks have a dependable clutch shooter in Jason Terry: Jason Terry is a threat near the end of games. I remember a game on TNT in which the Seattle Supersonics were using the energy of their home crowd to nearly blow out the Mavericks. Apparently, Terry was feeding off it as well as he made about three to four key three-pointers to win the game. This will not be the last time for Terry to show his shooting touch. The NBA has acknowledged this as Terry was chosen to participate in the 3pt Shootout on All-Star Saturday Night.

Desagna Diop and Erick Dampier do not care to score: These two centers, though inconsistent, are rebound machines. The interior defense these two guys play are helpful offensively and defensively. The best part is that these two are not scorers, and they know that. This allows the Mavericks to implement a inside-out game plan which is perfect for perimeter players like Howard, Griffin, Terry, and Nowitzski who are not known to have excellent driving skills. Howard is a mid range jump shooter, Griffin provides 4-8 points from the perimeter, Terry is the main three-point shooter, and Dirk is arguably the best shooter in the league.

Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels are relentless: I cannot truly say much about Daniels this season due to an assortment of injuries, but Josh Howard is truly relentless. It is arguable whether he is the second or third scoring option behind Dirk. However, what is important is his game. On the offensive end, Howard likes to shoot a myriad of mid-range shots. Because these shots are in the vicinity of the free-throw line or just inside the line, he makes a good amount of these high percentage shots. On the defensive end, he chases after rebounds though he’s not very big. It is not surprising to see him outrebound Dirk and/or Dampier. You cannot argue with 15 points and 10 rebounds a night. Marquis Daniels plays a very similar game; once he is fully recovered from injuries, other teams better watch out.

The Mavericks have a deep bench: Former all-star Jerry Stackhouse leads the pack of very talented players on the Mavericks’ bench. You know your team is good if Stackhouse is the first guy off your bench. Another player with very good potential and a personal favorite of mine is Harris. When given the playing time, he provides energy to the team and is a perfect backup for Terry.

When the playoffs come in two months, The Mavs, barring any setbacks, will probably be the first seed. Should the Spurs regain the lead, they will drop to fourth and have to play a very surprising Clippers in the first round. This could be trouble considering Elton Brand is having a MVP type season. However, because of the way the Mavs have been playing, I do not expect them to leave the court until they reach at least the Western Conference Finals.


Tue 03/14/06, 6:24 pm EST


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