Get­ting de­fen­sive

Stop­ping op­po­nents fig­ures promi­nently in team’s game plan

The Dallas Morning News - - Sportsday - Twit­ter: @Ese­fko

Ed­die Se­fko: Mav­er­icks de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist Wes­ley Matthews feels like he will have more help on that end of the court this sea­son.

Wes­ley Matthews views him­self as an NFL cor­ner­back who just hap­pens to be play­ing in the NBA.

His job is to take the best player on the other team and try to shut him down, which is a lit­tle tougher in the NBA than it is in the NFL.

But the feel­ing is the same. He’s of­ten been on an is­land try­ing to play de­fense in his first two sea­sons in Dal­las.

No more, he says. “This is the most help I’ve had in a long time as far as peo­ple around me that can de­fend,” Matthews said. “We can all do it. But it’s go­ing to take a com­mit­tee. It’s go­ing to take con­di­tion­ing. And a men­tal­ity.”

Matthews is of the opin­ion that de­fense in the NBA doesn’t get the at­ten­tion it de­serves. Of course, it was his de­fense and 3-point shoot­ing that helped him se­cure a four-year, $70 mil­lion con­tract in the sum­mer of 2015.

But he’s right. He said a night last sea­son when he was watch­ing high­lights il­lus­trated to him what makes the NBA go around. And it’s not what hap­pens at the de­fen­sive end of the court.

“It’s an of­fen­sive league,” he said. “We know that. At the end of the day, even if it takes some­body 28 shots to get their 30 or 40 points, on the ticker, it says 40 points. It doesn’t say 15 missed shots, six turnovers, three bad passes. It doesn’t show that. That’s not what sells.

“Yeah, de­fense is what wins games. But it doesn’t sell. I don’t think the me­dia does a good job of pump­ing de­fen­sive play­ers.”

If the Mav­er­icks can play bet­ter de­fense this sea­son, it would help fa­cil­i­tate the faster tempo coach Rick Carlisle wants to play. That no­tion has legs largely be­cause they have bet­ter de­fend­ers. Their de­fen­sive num­bers last sea­son didn’t look bad, but they were skewed a bit be­cause they played at a snail’s pace.

This year, they will have to fig­ure out how to get stops to trig­ger what they hope is a rapid-fire tempo.

It’s not just go­ing to be Matthews at the de­fen­sive end. But he is the head of the snake when it comes to putting up re­sis­tance.

And his lead is trick­ling down.

Ner­lens Noel is one big rea­son Matthews feels bet­ter about the de­fense this sea­son. The big man has great de­fen­sive in­stincts, although he is young and still de­vel­op­ing his game.

“Just be­ing the an­chor of the de­fense is the big­gest thing I’m do­ing,” Noel said. “I def­i­nitely think Wes is the leader of the de­fense and the team, pe­riod. And he’s help­ing me tran­si­tion to be­ing more of a leader on that end of the court.”

Carlisle is a big fan of Noel’s skills and ap­plauds the cen­ter’s ag­gres­sive style.

But he also makes it clear that not ev­ery­thing is about fly­ing around the court try­ing to block ev­ery shot.

“He’s got amaz­ing phys­i­cal tools for de­fense,” Carlisle said. “But it starts with play­ing within a sys­tem. If you’re in a strong po­si­tion to make a play on the ball for a steal or a de­flec­tion, then if you’ve got an 85 per­cent chance to get it, I’m all for it.

“If it’s 65 per­cent and you don’t get it, you’re go­ing to hear about it.”

That’s what coaches do. And Noel is fine with that. “They’ve been on me since I got here about play­ing a lit­tle more dis­ci­plined de­fense — still an­tic­i­pat­ing steals and blocks, but mak­ing sure it’s healthy for the team,” he said. “Dis­ci­pline is a main thing as op­posed to be­fore when I would play a lit­tle more reck­less.”

With more de­fen­sive-minded play­ers to work with, Matthews and Carlisle are hop­ing Noel doesn’t have to take as many chances this sea­son.

Smith in­jured in vic­tory: Rookie point guard Den­nis Smith suf­fered a left an­kle sprain in the first half of Thurs­day night’s ex­hi­bi­tion game at At­lanta and did not re­turn.

“Don’t think it’s se­ri­ous,” coach Rick Carlisle told re­porters af­ter the Mav­er­icks’ 108-94 vic­tory. He added that it’s pos­si­ble Smith will play Fri­day at Char­lotte in the fi­nal pre­sea­son game. The reg­u­lar sea­son be­gins Wed­nes­day at home against At­lanta.

Tom Fox/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

The Mav­er­icks’ Wes­ley Matthews de­fends against Bos­ton guard Mar­cus Smart. De­fense will be key to the Mav­er­icks set­ting the tempo this sea­son, and Matthews is be­ing counted on to spear­head the ef­fort.

ED­DIE SE­FKO ese­fko@dal­las­news.com

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