DALLAS — The drastically improved defense that helped the Dallas Mavericks make a run to last season’s Western Conference finals seems like a distant memory, prompting coach Jason Kidd to call out his team’s poor effort on that end of the floor.
Kidd made his pointed comments, sprinkling in a healthy dose of sarcasm, after the Atlanta Hawks’ 130-122 win over the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night. The Mavs have lost three straight, allowing at least 130 points in each game of that skid.
Dallas, which ranked seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, has fallen to 25th in that category, allowing 115.0 points per 100 possessions.
“If it’s with this personnel, then you’ve got to keep asking or demanding for those guys to play defense,” Kidd said when asked about potential solutions for Dallas’ defensive woes. “It’s not just the offensive end. Tonight, we gave up 130 points and a team shot 57 percent. It’s a shootaround. In this league, if you do that, no matter if you have Luka or Kareem or LeBron, you’re going to lose. It doesn’t matter how many points you score, you’re always going to be short.
“So until we put a better effort into playing defense and understanding what we have to do, we’re going to score 120, but we’re going to give up 130, 140. One night we might give up 150, but we’ll be fine because we scored, so it doesn’t look too bad.”
Injuries have been a significant factor in Dallas’ defensive slide. Wings Dorian Finney-Smith (adductor) and Josh Green (elbow), two of the Mavs’ best perimeter defenders, returned Wednesday night after missing 14 and 20 games, respectively. Center/power forward Maxi Kleber, who often closes games due to his defensive prowess, has been out for more than a month after tearing his right hamstring and undergoing surgery but said on the team’s television broadcast that he will return during the regular season, perhaps even within a month.
However, key Mavericks players agreed with Kidd that the effort on the defensive end recently has been inexcusable, regardless of who is on the injured list.
“We’re good on offense,” said NBA scoring leader Luka Doncic, the orchestrator of an offense that scores 115.0 points per 100 possessions, ranking fifth in the league. “We’ve just got to make sure we put the same effort on defense.”
Finney-Smith, who frequently guards the opponent’s top scorer, called on the Mavs to improve their “care factor” on defense.
“It’s attention to detail and focus,” Finney-Smith said. “It’s everything. I tried to come out here with some energy, but we still end up doing the same thing. It’s everybody. It ain’t just one person. We all gotta take the challenge and start guarding. Gotta be about the care factor. We’ve got to care about stopping somebody. You should get mad if they keep scoring.”