DALLAS – One of the reasons the Dallas Mavericks have gotten off to such a terrific start this year is because is more efficient than it was last season.
A year ago, center Tyson Chandler was the main defender who helped erase the ills that happened on the perimeter. But this year it helps that the Mavs’ starting backcourt of Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews are much bigger and more physical than last year’s starting backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis.
That extra girth and desire to play defense has been the calling card for the 8-4 record the Mavs have produced heading into tonight’s 7:30 contest against the Utah Jazz at American Airlines Center.
"I think our concentration has been better – we’ve worked hard on it,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said of his team’s defense. "We’re a little more physical because we’ve got a little more size at the guard positions.’’
While Chandler picked up 31 double-doubles last year for the Mavs and was the team’s emotional leader on and off the court, Zaza Pachulia brings a different kind of flavor to the table at the center spot. Pachulia (6-11, 275) already has six double-doubles and is on pace to collect 41.
"Zaza is a different kind of guy at the center position,’’ Carlisle said. "But look, we’re nine or 10 or 11 games into (the season), or whatever it is, or 12.
"It’s very early yet, and we’ve got to keep working to continue to get better and keep moving this thing in the right direction.’’
Opponents are shooting 42.5 percent from the field against the Mavs, which is the sixth-best defensive showing in the NBA. Also, the Mavs have the third-best 3-point shooting defense in the league at 30.6 percent.
Offensively, the Mavs will be heavily challenged tonight by Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who is second in the NBA in blocks with 3.2 per game. At times, it is as if the 7-1, 245-pound Gobert is in two places at the same time on defense.
That’s the type of impact he’s having, and what the Mavs will have to overcome tonight.
"You’ve just got to know where he is,’’ Carlisle said. "He’s so tall and has very good instincts, and a lot of times he holds his jump until late, until you’re just getting ready to shoot the ball.
"There’s some analytics numbers out there that when he’s in the lane he’s having an unprecedented effect on changing shots and team’s missing. Shots are either being changed, being blocked or whatever, but he’s a guy who you cannot overlook as a force.’’
The Mavs plan to bring their own version of force in the name of Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Devin Harris and Jeremy Evans. It’s a reunion of sorts for those four players since they all used to play for the Jazz.
"Most of my best years were in Utah, so I have a lot of great memories from playing there,’’ said Williams, who was twice an All-Star with the Jazz. "I had a chance to play with a lot of my former teammates over the years – both Brooklyn and here _ so it’ll always be with me and be a part of me.’’
Evans would certainly agree with that assessment. Evans, who played for the Jazz from 2010 before signing a two-year free agent contract with the Mavs on July 15, got a bit confused early during his tenure with the Mavs.
"I got here and the first autograph session I kept looking up to see If I was going to know anybody,’’ Evans said. "I had to remember that I wasn’t in Utah.’’
What the Mavs have to remember tonight is that they’ve been a scrappy bunch who has found ways to win games just when they were counted out. Wednesday’s 106-102 victory at Boston, when the Mavs were down 18 points in the second quarter, is a perfect example of the Mavs’ resiliency.
"It hasn’t been pretty and we haven’t had any blowouts,’’ Williams said. "We’ve had some solid quarters, but we haven’t put together a full 48 minutes.
"The games where we got up, we kind of hung in there, and the games where we were down we were able to fight back and take control. So we just got to keep continuing to fight and play hard and play for each other.’’
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 on dfwiradio.com.