As we are nearing the end of the first month of the new NBA season, the Dallas Mavericks find themselves with a 9-5 record after dropping back-to-back games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Sacramento Kings.
Prior to facing the back-to-back defeats, the Mavs did not skip a beat as they were able to coast to a 9-3 record sitting atop the Western conference with the reigning champion Denver Nuggets. Now the Mavs find themselves in uncharted territory as they faced their first two games losing streak of the 2023-24 and have dropped to fifth in the Western Conference.
Although the Mavs started off hot, there were some questions around the association based on their strength of schedule as their nine wins came against teams with a combined record of 40-74. Heading into the back-to-back stretch against Milwaukee and Sacramento, this would be their biggest test this year as they have both put the league on notice as well as Dallas and were both in the playoffs last season. The Mavs kept it steady in both games throughout the course but crumbled defensively down the stretch resulting in a 132-125 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 129-113 loss against the Sacramento Kings.
“Our Best Defense is Our Best Offense”
The expectations with rejuvenating the roster last off season were to acquire players that could make an impact on the defensive end as well as acquiring role players that could adjust to a faster brand of play behind the dynamic backcourt in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. So far, we’ve seen that the new cast of characters adjusted to playing with Luka and Kyrie and understand their roles, but that hasn’t seemed to be the case when it comes to defensive statistics. The Mavs currently have a 118.2 defensive rating which is ranked 26th in the NBA.
With the Mavs playing lesser competition through the beginning of the season, their offensive production was able to overshadow the defensive inconsistency. Now, after dropping two straight against two contenders, the consistency of what they can bring on the defensive end has officially come into question.
After the loss to the Sacramento Kings, Jason Kidd addressed the media regarding their performances on the back-to-back as he said bluntly that “Right now our best defense is our offense. If we’re not scoring 130, it’s hard to win” -Tim MacMahon. Kidd, entering his third season with the Mavericks has been persistent on implementing a championship defense which is what the offseason acquisitions was planned around. Despite the willingness to build a defense, trends from the 2022-23 nightmare season are starting to mesh early on into the 2023-24 season.
It also doesn’t help when you are missing your defensive anchor in Maxi Kleber as he has missed the last six games due to a pinkie toe dislocation. With the absence of Kleber, it has been plugging and playing through the forward rotation of Grant Williams, Derrick Jones Jr, Josh Green and Dante Exum. With many of the guards on the Mavs prioritizing offensive packages, the forwards are normally the ones to rely on the defensive end.
Three out of the four forwards in the rotation are in their first year with the Mavs so the defensive flexibility has not come easy as it would with Kleber as he has spent seven seasons with the team. Grant Williams and Derick Jones Jr have served as the starting forwards so far into the season and have both fitted well into their roles. They both have been holding up their end of the bargain defensively as they are likely to be guarding the opposing team’s best player on a nightly basis.
Beside the two starting forwards, Derrick Lively, who has been starting at center as a 19-year-old rookie is starting to understand the defensive game plan and is able to adjust well and play well off of everyone else. Luckily in Lively’s case, he has a solid foundation in mentors with Tyson Chandler (Player-Development coach) and Dwight Powell (Backup center). Chandler was the starting center on the 2011 championship team and Dwight Powell has spent 10 seasons with the Mavs. The development of Lively will be something to keep an eye on as he is making vast adjustments with the goal of turning into a top center in the NBA.
The bigger picture is, the Mavericks should not have to rely on 130 points to win every night. A championship formula solely comes together from dominance on both ends. Again, it’s easier said than done if you don’t have the resources but can be shown as viable based on what they were able to do in 2021-22 by going to the Western Conference Finals with an underwhelming rotation.
The Road Ahead
Luckily for the Mavs they will get a well needed break after playing five games in seven days as they will only play three games in the next 11 days.
Up next for the Mavs, they will be travelling to take on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers who are another contender holding a record of 8-6. This will be yet another test for the Mavs as they are familiarities circling the matchup as Jason Kidd is a former assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers as well as former Mav and current Laker Christian Wood facing his former team for the first time.