What’s gotten into the Dallas Mavericks of late? If you tuned the team out because of mounting losses, now might be a good time to tune back in. Right now, the Mavericks are fun to watch. In addition, if that’s not enough, they’re winning games. Dallas won four straight games, its longest win streak of the season, before falling to the Golden State Warriors, 125-122, in the final seconds on Wednesday. This isn’t the same team that stumbled to a 5-17 record in October and November. The Mavs’ are playing their best basketball and there are a few reasons for their resurgence.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Mavs are winning is simply that their shots are falling. In the last five games, Dallas is shooting 49.5 percent overall and 41.4 percent on 3-pointers. For the month of December, when the team went 8-8, it shot 47.5 percent and 38.9 percent from behind the arc. Both are improvements from the first two months of the season, when they combined to shoot 43 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from deep. For his part, though, head coach Rick Carlisle cannot pinpoint why the team is shooting better.
“Team rhythm is an interesting topic,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know if there’s a quantitative, true measure for it. We’ve been together now, this year, for a while. That helps. We’ve defended better in the last six to eight weeks. That helps. It puts you in a better position offensively.
“I think, execution-wise, we’ve gotten used to each other. I’ve done some things slightly better as time has gone on. In terms of a definite answer, I don’t really have it. But better defense and rebounding usually stimulates it.”
In October and November, Dallas allowed opponents to shoot 46.4 percent overall and 36.8 percent on 3-pointers while allowing 104.7 points per game, good for 14th in the league. The Mavs were also pulling down 33.4 defensive rebounds. While opponents shot slightly better in general -- 46.6 percent -- against Dallas since December 1, their 3-point shooting ticked down to 35.5 percent. Their points per game also fell to 102.9, which is sixth-best overall. Meanwhile, Dallas’ defensive rebounding dipped to 32.4 per game.
In other words, it’s clear that defense and rebounding probably have little bearing on putting the ball in the bucket. Nonetheless, Dallas is shooting better and its defense continues to improve. Regardless of how it’s happening, everything is clicking for the Mavericks right now, notes Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
“I think they’ve found the formula that works for them,” Kerr said. “When we saw them earlier in the year, they were just kind of getting started, getting to know each other. They’ve got a lot of new pieces— obviously, [Dennis] Smith, but [Maxi] Kleber as well has been good for them. They had to sort through some things lineup-wise and they seem to have found a really good formula.
“They’re playing bigger on the frontline now, starting Kleber at the five and going with Dirk [Nowitzki] and Harrison [Barnes]. And then they come in with that ‘Energizer Bunny’ second unit with [J.J.] Barea and Devin Harris. Those guys really push the tempo and they play with [Dwight] Powell who comes in and gives them a burst of athleticism. I love the way they’re playing. They play hard and smart and they’re always well-coached. So, we’re catching them at a time when they’re, I think, in peak form.”
The “Energizer Bunny” unit Kerr is referring to is one of the reasons the Mavericks are playing as well as they are. Comprised of Barea, Harris, Yogi Ferrell, Nowitzki, and Powell, Dallas’ second unit is one of the best five-man units in the league. In fact, it ranks third in the NBA with a total plus/minus of plus-104. For comparison, the best five-man unit, in terms of plus/minus, is the Warriors’ starting five.
Dallas has a lot going for it right now. With a relatively lax schedule over the next two weeks, there’s no telling how many wins the Mavs can potentially rattle off. That may anger some of the folks who would rather see the team play for a better lottery pick rather than winning games, but the Mavs aren’t going to roll over and play dead. The game against the Warriors is proof of that.
“I’m really pleased about the way we played, how hard we played, and how we kept coming and coming,” Carlisle said after the loss to the Warriors.
Expect the same mentality and effort for the remainder of the season. If you stopped watching the Mavericks, that’s fine. Just know that if you tune back in, you won’t be disappointed. They’re competitive again.