The Dallas Mavericks aren't the perfect basketball team. But it's too bad the schedule isn't allowing more home games right now, because the Mavs are pretty good at the AAC. And it's too bad the schedule isn't allowing Dallas to play Denver in more third quarters, because on Saturday in that circumstance ... Well, the Mavs were close to perfect.
"We’ve had a spike of improvement,'' coach Rick Carlisle said after the 92-81 victory over Denver, "in our defensive numbers.''
Carlisle was speaking generally about the 2015-16 Mavs, and he was speaking specifically about the talents of Wes Matthews, who despite not yet being 100-percent himself (hopefully that will come following last year's Achilles surgery) is setting a gritty tone for Dallas, now 10-7 after having lost three straight roadies last week.
Carlisle: "Wesley has been a significant part of (the improvement). When he walked out there on opening night (in a win at Phoenix) and guarded Morris, that sent a message to our team that he meant business, we were beginning a new year for our team in terms of our attitude. ... It’s been great because he's really mixed with Dirk and Parsons. He’s a great compliment to Deron Williams.''
And how did Ironman's work translate to Saturday?
"We had no one that could guard (Danilo) Gallinari except him,'' Carlisle said. "Wes was the guy who made it really hard on him.''
Indeed, while Gallinari had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half, Matthews helped put the lid on him in the second, holding him scoreless and 0-of-7 from the floor. That was central to the Mavs' record-setting effort: The Nuggets started the third quarter 0-of-16 from the field, didn’t score until the 3:05 mark of that period, and scored just five points -- and set a franchise record for points allowed in a quarter (previously the Lakers with seven on Jan. 16, 2012).
"Five points in the third quarter ... (Dallas) came out very aggressive in the third quarter and we did not match their physicality and it is unfortunate,'' said Denver coach Michael Malone said.
While the Nuggets were shooting 2-of-19 (and coughing up nine turnovers) in the quarter, Dallas was scoring 25 points. ... and moving toward other milestones. Carlisle moved to 629 career wins and 22nd place on the NBA’s all-time list for coaching victories, passing former Nuggets boss Doug Moe. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki entered the game needing seven field goals to become just the 13th NBA player with 10,000 made buckets. He was 4-of-9 for 13 points here. ... so the big number figures to come Monday at Sacramento against Boogie and Rondo. (More on him in a sec.)
But this is a "team'' thing for Nowitzki (though you are invited to vote on the individual "Dirkie'' winner here), one reason the Wes acquisition is working so well.
Said Dirk: "We finally played with a little more energy. Overall, I like how we worked for each other."
Added Wes: "When I do (trigger things defensively), it gets everybody else going, gets the mojo going,"
Carlisle called Dallas' reliance on Wes despite his rehab circumstances "a unique situation.’’ But on Monday, we'll all recall one of the most "unique situations'' in NBA history: The Rondo Experiment, last year's trade for the elite-talent point guard who arrived in Dallas in the winter and by spring proved to be so ill-fitting that he literally quit on his team in the middle of a playoff series.
What is Rondo (now of the Kings, and playing well by the numbers) saying about Dallas-at-Sacto on Monday?
We would expect no less of a dismissive comment from the removed basketball cancer ... and we rejoice in the way the Mavs have turned to a new member of their backcourt with a refreshingly different approach.
"Wes is our go-to guy on defense," said Dirk of Matthews. "He can guard multiple positions. He's just a fighter. We'll live with him on the opposing best player all day.''