Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has a habit of preaching that his team is built on strength in numbers.
That premise is evident in the way the Mavericks have rolled up their sleeves and played defense this season.
Instead of it being one player playing defense — as seemingly was the case last season with center Tyson Chandler — several players have pitched in and shown the defensive side of their game.
We’ve got to guard the ball with five guys, and we’ve got to rebound the ball with five guys.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on the team’s defense
“We don’t have a team full of great individual stoppers,” Carlisle said after Saturday’s practice at American Airlines Center. “We do have some very good individual defenders, but we’ve got to guard the ball with five guys, and we’ve got to rebound the ball with five guys.
“And then at the other end, five guys have got to help us get the best possible shot. We’re a true team in every sense and any time we’ve gotten away from that we’ve had big-time struggles.”
The red-hot Mavericks (9-4) are hoping to be on top of their defensive game again at 6 p.m. Sunday when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder (7-6) at Chesapeake Energy Arena in the opener of a tough three-game road trip that includes stops in Memphis and San Antonio.
Dallas has won six consecutive games since getting blown out by the New Orleans Pelicans 120-105 on Nov. 10. It’s the longest current winning streak in the NBA besides the undefeated Golden State Warriors (14-0), and it’s the longest Mavericks winning streak since they won eight straight from Feb. 12-March 4, 2011.
“Everybody is stepping up, we’re playing team defense, and guys are stepping up at the end of games,” guard J.J. Barea said. “We’re just getting better every day. We love to win, so we’re doing everything we can to win. The coaches are putting us in great situations, and the players, we’re taking advantage of it.”
Oklahoma City superstar forward Kevin Durant has missed the past five games with a hamstring injury, but he has been upgraded to questionable for Sunday’s game. But the way the Mavericks see it, they have some major issues on their hands regardless of whether Durant plays.
Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter can also dominate for the Thunder.
He’s one of those guys — there’s a small handful — that’s playing at that space-age level.
Carlisle on Russell Westbrook
“Either way it’s a big problem with Westbrook and the big guys crashing the boards,” Carlisle said. “And they’ve got great shooting with [Anthony] Morrow and [D.J.] Augustin. And Kanter in the post is a major problem, too.”
Westbrook is second in the NBA in scoring (28.5), assists (10.2) and double-doubles (nine), fourth in steals (2.3), and averages 7.8 rebounds a game.
“Just when you think last year how could a guy possibly top it, and he’s topped it,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of those guys — there’s a small handful — that’s playing at that space-age level.”
Anyone in their early 30s and looking for a suitable place to continue their basketball career should give Carlisle a call.
“Our franchise has done well with veteran players that have come in here in their early 30s,” Carlisle said. “We’ve had luck extending careers and getting guys playing well because they’re playing with Dirk [Nowitzki. There’s a big advantage to that if you’re a guy coming from another situation.”
The Mavericks sent rookies Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri to the D-League so they could play for the Texas Legends in Frisco on Saturday night against the Oklahoma City Blue.
Both players will rejoin the Mavericks for Sunday’s game.
“We’re going to give them an opportunity to play, get minutes and get a chance to play against some other NBA-caliber players,” Carlisle said. “It’s a great opportunity for them, and that’s one of the real advantages to having the D-League team so close.”