Winning cures all ills, and the Dallas Mavericks have done plenty of that recently.
Winners of five straight, the Mavericks are 6-1 in the last seven games and continue to play the best defense they’ve played to this point in the season. And veteran shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. claims that the improvement is due to authentic accountability and not taking in-game criticism personally. A stark change from what looked like a dead-in-the-water ball club just one month ago.
“There were some rough patches from the start of the year until late December, but then guys started to figure things out and really understand what the [coaching] staff wanted us to do,” Hardaway said. “Right now, in these last five games, we have shown it. Guys are speaking up. Guys are talking to one another. No one is taking anything personally.
“If another player sees something on defense or offense and he speaks up, the guy receiving the message takes it in a positive way and then we move on. That’s what’s been helping us out on both sides of the ball. And what’s been helping us click on both sides of the floor.”
It may have taken Jason Kidd around 39 games, but his message appears to have finally landed amongst the players. Since training camp, Kidd spoke of accountability and playing for each other. It sounds like typical coach-speak on the surface. But Kidd has the team believing that with accountability comes wins.
And judging by Dallas’ play of late, Kidd may be right.
Defense by the numbers
Before the 130-106 win over the Houston Rockets, Dallas held a five-game streak of keeping opponents under 100 points.
In the NBA, where rules favor high-scoring games, that’s a tall task. Dallas made it look routine.
The Mavericks didn’t just beat up on terrible teams either. In those five-straight defensive masterpieces, Dallas held the Golden State Warriors to 82 points. A feat no other team has done to Golden State at this point in the season. And after the game, Dallas’ defensive performance garnered praise for Steve Kerr, the Warriors head coach.
“They switched a lot and they were very physical with everybody,” Kerr said. “I thought they were really good defensively – just a step ahead of us.”
What adds to the impressiveness of this stretch of basketball for Dallas is that the team has played well despite missing key pieces on some nights. At the start of this stretch, Dallas was missing Luka Doncic. Then the Mavericks lost Kristaps Porzingis to health and safety protocols. And on Friday morning, ahead of the win over Houston, it was announced that Kidd entered health and safety protocols, as well.
But somehow, Dallas, in the last seven games, leads the league in defensive rating (99.9) and net rating (14.5). Part of that is the trademark next-man-up mentality Dallas wholeheartedly believes in. And another part of it is Kidd’s coaching philosophy — built around accountability — taking hold.
“No matter who’s out there, coaching or playing, we’ve kinda created this chemistry to play a certain way,” Jalen Brunson said. “It’s the next-man-up mentality, and that’s from the players and the coaches. Obviously, we want everyone back and healthy, but we got to keep going.”
The offense by the numbers
The offense is where Dallas’ key absences are felt.
With Porzingis and Doncic both in and out of the lineup over the last seven games, Dallas sits 14th in the league in offensive rating (114.3). And despite the uptick in defense, the pace of play sits 27th in the league (95.75). Boston, Portland and New York are the three teams that play slower than Dallas.
It hasn’t always been pretty, and Brunson has somewhat regressed to his average in the last seven games (16.7 points per game and 29 percent from three), but it doesn’t matter as much because Dallas is winning.
The offense will sort itself out once Porzingis and Doncic play together for a decent amount of time. For now, Dallas is winning with defense, which is hard to do.
Playing great defense isn’t pretty. It takes accountability, transparency and honesty. It requires selflessness and the want to play hard for everyone else. So, it’s fitting that Kidd’s philosophy directly lines up with what it takes to be great on that end of the floor.
Getting to this point took time. Most good things do. However, it appears evident that Dallas is primed to take advantage of the newfound accountability and authenticity that’s played a part in producing some of the team’s best games recently.
“There are a lot of guys on this team that can do amazing things on the court, but there is going to be times where each and everyone one of us makes mistakes,” Brunson said. “But it’s how we grow from it, it’s how we hold each other accountable, and it’s how we get better.
“With us, and the personnel we have on this team, we have a lot of guys who enjoy playing this game but at the same time are still learning it better. We are going to continue to grow, continue to hold each other accountable and build off our chemistry. And the guys we have in this locker room are willing to do those things.”
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Feature image via Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.