Stopping opponents figures prominently in team’s game plan
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.
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.