DALLAS (TICKER) —Offense has pushed the Dallas Mavericks to the top of the NBA, but their improved defense also has a lot to do with their success.
Offense has been instrumental in the Mavs’ success over the last two seasons, but their defense has been the most improved in the league from the 2001-02 campaign. After allowing 101 points per game last season, Dallas came in giving up 93.6 per contest.
The Mavericks (48-14) won their fourth straight and improved to 10-4 since the All-Star break by holding an opponent under 80 points for the ninth time this season. They have kept 42 of 62 foes under 100 points.
“Well, I think their whole part of their game was excellent tonight,” Utah forward Karl Malone said. “Like I say, I can’t really judge from one game, but I think tonight they did everything. They helped each other, guys came off the bench and did their job.”
“We contested every jump shot, we rebounded the ball well and outrebounded them tonight,” Nowitzki said. “We never let up on them tonight. They were a little flat and we jumped on them early and played great defense from the beginning on, and we just put them away.”
Dallas has held nine of its last 11 foes under triple digits and is on pace for the best defensive season in franchise history.
The Mavs took advantage of a Jazz team that lost in overtime to Sacramento on Friday and was opening a five-game road trip. Dallas held Utah to 43 percent (31-of-72) shooting and had a 43-38 rebounding edge.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan refused to use Friday’s game as an excuse.
“We had a tough time and we said, `Oh, wow, we have a game today.’ Nobody has to do that,” Sloan said. “That’s ridiculous. There’s 24 hours in every day, hasn’t changed and there should be eight hours in there for sleep. If you work at it, I think you can get eight hours of sleep out of the day.
“Now, we have a couple of older guys and that may have gotten them a little bit. But the other guys have to step up.”
Six players reached double figures for Dallas. The high-scoring trio of Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash combined for 47 points while reserves Shawn Bradley, Adrian Griffin and Nick Van Exel totaled 27.
The Mavericks overcame an early injury to Steve Nash, who twisted his left knee when he collided with Utah’s John Stockton in the first quarter. Nash, who made several key defensive stops in Friday’s win at Miami, returned and held Stockton to seven points.
Dallas took a 22-14 advantage into the second quarter before turning the game into a rout. The lead reached double digits for good with 10:48 remaining in the second quarter when Bradley’s layup made it 24-14.
Shortly thereafter, the Mavs took control, using a 20-7 spurt to open a 52-28 bulge 2:16 before halftime. Nowitzki had nine points and Dallas made 7-of-8 shots during the run.
Dallas outscored Utah, 33-18, in the decisive period and held them to 33 percent (7-of-21) while shooting 62 percent (13-of-19). The Mavs also made six 3-pointers in the period as Finley, Nash and Nowitzki sank two apiece.
“We did a good job offensively, but the Utah team that we are accustomed to didn’t make it here tonight,” Nash said. “They are a lot better than that.”
Malone, a non-factor in overtime on Friday, got off to a 3-of-11 start in the first half and scored most of his 16 points after the outcome was decided.