Posted Nov 14 2010 12:06PM
DALLAS -- As the Mavericks sit around waiting for their little French buddy to save the day, an old Puerto Rican sparkplug has remerged from an early season slumber. Perhaps of greater importance than the Roddy Beaubois watch or J.J. Barea rebirth, especially for Rick Carlisle, is the arrival of another friend who they hope sticks around all season.
The name starts with D.
Defense is winning games in Dallas these days. Sure, Dirk Nowitzki continues to flash his All-NBA ways and Jason Kidd is sipping from the fountain of middle age. But when it comes to getting out of the gates with six wins in their first eight games, the Mavericks are clamping down.
Dallas' start is understandably overlooked when compared to those of the Hornets, Lakers, Jazz, Celtics and even the Heat. Well, especially the Heat. Still, don't sleep on the Mavericks.
Teams are shooting a league-worst 42 percent against Carlisle's troops, while scoring just 91.5 points. Only undefeated New Orleans -- Dallas' foe Monday -- and Milwaukee are giving up fewer points. Of the first eight opponents, only Denver has shot at least 46 percent in a game. Three haven't broken 40.
And the Mavs are doing it without many standout individual defenders. Kidd's instincts, namely in passing lanes, remain second to none despite losing a step or two. Shawn Marion is long, rangy and capable of guarding four positions. Tyson Chandler is already the most athletically gifted center in team history -- yes, after just eight games -- though those we're comparing him against are mostly Shawn Bradleyesque.
What the Mavericks are doing well is helping and scrambling. In place of a lockdown specialist in the Ron Artest mode, they're doing it as a collective unit, recognizing and reacting to who needs help and where they need it. If someone misses an assignment, he scrambles to make sure he doesn't miss another.
After beating Boston, a game Dallas finished with a 7-0 run, Nowitzki didn't focus on the offensive execution down the stretch that included his game-deciding jumper with 17 seconds. Instead, he wanted to talk about Mr. D.
"Our defense showed a lot of will," Nowitzki said.
The defensive improvement is even more striking considering Dallas' overall effectiveness at the other end. Even though turnovers have been an issue, particularly in the fourth quarter, possessions are yielding points. The Mavs are shooting 48.5 percent, third best in the league.
"Execution and taking care of the ball go a long way toward putting you in a position to defend," Carlisle said. "This year that's become more of an emphasis for us. We want to be aggressive on one hand, but on the other hand we want to be efficient with the ball."
That progress, along with the wins, has eased the pressure on Beaubois. If it seemed the Mavericks were waiting on the dynamo of a guard to really start cooking, it's because they were.
That feeling went beyond the fan base and talk shows because of a thread fed by none other than the franchise. Nowitzki has talked up Roddy B whenever asked, and sometimes unprovoked, since the first day of camp.
"Obviously, we'll all waiting on Roddy," Nowitzki said recently. "It doesn't look like he's going to play until December the way he looks, so we just have fight through it."
Fighting through the loss of Nowitzki makes more sense than leaning on 22-year-old shoulders with a limited body of work. There were definite flashes as a rookie, namely a 40-point effort at Golden State and an inspiring two quarters against San Antonio in the first round finale.
Beaubois is recovering from a broken foot suffered in August and, after a setback a few weeks ago, remains in a walking boot. As talented as he is -- and that's never been debated -- he shouldn't be Dallas' knight in blue and white armor.
On top of future Hall of Famers Nowitzki and Kidd, the roster also boasts former All-Stars (Marion and Caron Butler), a former Sixth Man winner (Jason Terry) and USA Basketball's most recent starting center (Chandler).
But even the guy that many predict Beaubois will steal minutes from when he eventually gets back realizes what Roddy B brings.
"He's another weapon for us," Terry said. "We're that much more deeper of a team. We play faster with him, and he's another guy that can get in the lane and create. We miss that. We definitely miss him."
Terry has made it a point to mentor Beaubois, realizing it's for the good of a team that still fosters title hopes. "The more, the better," Terry said. "For years, we've had less."
And an uptick from Barea, the closest the Mavs had in recent years to a Beaubois-type before Beaubois, has also helped. Mired in a slump through the first five games, Barea busted out for a game-high 19 points Friday against Philadelphia. He's now scored double figures in three straight.
The ability to score is going to always rule the day in Big D. It's been the franchise's calling card for a decade. It's been Nowitzki's ticket to greatness.
That's not going to change. Making room and friends with that other D won't hurt.
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