Commentary

Mavs execute their 3-D plan for success

Combination of Dirk, defense and depth overwhelms Lakers, could lead to bigger things

Updated: May 9, 2011, 8:55 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- So much for Matt Barnes' blueprint for beating the Dallas Mavericks, huh?

These Mavs can't be punked, which the Los Angeles Lakers reserve forward proclaimed via Twitter last month as all that needed to happen to defeat Dallas.

The Mavs proved Barnes and plenty of other people wrong by ending the Lakers' dynasty in dominant fashion.

Much time will be dedicated to all the things the Lakers did wrong to send Phil Jackson into retirement on the broom end of a sweep for the first time in his phenomenal career. But, as Kobe Bryant said, the Mavs deserve much credit.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki overwhelmed Paul Gasol and the Lakers. "This is the best I've seen him play in his career, to be honest with you," Gasol said.

Not that the Mavs are in celebration mode after eliminating the two-time defending champs with a 122-86 win Sunday at the American Airlines Center. Dirk Nowitzki considered cheating on his diet by eating a little pizza, but the Mavs don't plan to party until they achieve their championship goal. They're halfway there.

"If we were having this conversation and somehow faced the Lakers in the Finals and right now we were celebrating with champagne, I'd be pretty excited," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said. "But until then, I'm not going to get too excited."

The corks will probably be popping around these parts in a month if the Mavs continue to execute their blueprint for playoff success so efficiently. It's a 3-D plan: Dirk, defense and depth.

Dirk: The big German has been the one constant on the floor during the Mavs' run of 11 consecutive 50-win (but ring-less) seasons.

One could make a strong case that Nowitzki has been the NBA's MVP of the first two rounds of the playoffs. He has averaged 26.5 points and consistently come through as a closer, putting up double figures in the fourth quarter of half the Mavs' wins this postseason and twice hitting the go-ahead shots in the final two minutes against the Lakers.

"This is the best I've seen him play in his career, to be honest with you," said Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who was severely outplayed by Nowitzki in all four games.

Actually, these sorts of playoff performances are nothing new for Nowitzki, one of four players in NBA history with career postseason averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.

The difference for Dirk, who has taken the brunt of the blame for Dallas' past playoff failures despite his spectacular stats, is that he's never played on a team this deep and this dominant defensively. So, moving on …

Defense: Backup big man Brendan Haywood laughed when he asked whether I ever imagined writing about defense propelling the Mavs -- once mockingly referred to as Allas because of the lack of D -- to a playoff series win.

This Dallas defense, however, is no joke.

In fact, the Mavs have played the best playoff defense among the teams that are still alive, allowing an average of only 88.2 points per game during the postseason. They've held their opponents under 90 points in six of 10 games.

"We're helping each other. Everybody's communicating out there and it's showing," forward Shawn Marion said.

That's a credit to coach Rick Carlisle. He has hammered home the point since the start of training camp that defense would determine how far the Mavs could go. He considers their embracing of that message to be the most important part of their playoff blueprint.

"It's an understanding that a full commitment to the defensive end is really what's going to fuel the success that we're going to have," said Carlisle, who has stressed that the Mavs' offense functions best when they can play their flow game after getting a stop and a rebound.

The Mavs have had outstanding individual efforts. Jason Kidd twice shut down Kobe Bryant during crunch time, holding one of the elite scorers in NBA history to two points in a combined span of more than seven minutes during the Mavs' two close wins in the West semifinals.

Centers Chandler and Haywood made Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and L.A.'s Andrew Bynum work for every bucket while serving as the Mavs' defensive backbone.

But the Mavs have morphed into a defensive force because they're executing excellent plans every night. Players such as Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry, none of whom will ever quite have a reputation as lockdown defenders, have played major roles in the Mavs' defensive prowess due to maximum effort and schemes designed to mask their weaknesses.

"If we show up every night defensively the way we did tonight," Chandler said after the Lakers were limited to 37.8 percent shooting in the series finale, "there's no stopping this team."

Depth: The Mavs' bench matched all of the Lakers' point total in Game 4. Need any more evidence of Dallas' depth?

Not that the Mavs can count on that kind of production off the pine on a regular basis. It's pretty unusual for former Sixth Man of the Year Terry to tie an NBA playoff record with nine 3-pointers during a 32-point performance, ex-All-Star Stojakovic to have a perfect shooting night while putting up 21 points and Lakers cheap shot target J.J. Barea to score a playoff career-high 22.

But Dallas does anticipate having a distinct advantage in the battle of benches regardless of the opponent. That was certainly the case against the Lakers, whose bench was outscored by a 198-89 margin in the four-game series.

And the Mavs' bench isn't just three deep. The Mavs are plus-56 in the 174 minutes that Haywood, a starting-caliber 7-footer, has been on the floor during the playoffs. Corey Brewer, who has been inactive more often than not since signing with the Mavs in midseason, made a major impact in Game 1, sparking a 17-4 run to key a comeback after the Lakers' lead swelled to 16.

"Their depth hurt us," Bryant said in an understatement. "Every night it was another player stepping up and making plays."

Good ol' Dirk, a new commitment to defense and different guys stepping up every night? That could be the blueprint for building a champion.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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