Dallas Mavericks: New-Look Team Playing Championship Defense

Damian JacksonContributor IFebruary 21, 2010

DALLAS - FEBRUARY 20:  Forward Caron Butler #4 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts during play against the Miami Heat on February 20, 2010 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Remember the 50-point victory that the Dallas Mavericks laid on the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden four weeks ago?

Following that win, the Mavericks crumbled, only topping three of their next eight opponents before the All-Star break. Two came against the woeful Golden State Warriors and the other a one-point escape of the Milwaukee Bucks at home.

During the dreadful stretch, Dallas' defense virtually vanished. Then-Maverick fill-in center, Drew Gooden , struggled to man a position not meant for him. He hustled and worked hard, but other teams were scoring at ease.

The competition averaged a staggering 112.4 points per game.

Unacceptable for a team whose ultimate goal is winning a championship.

Dallas' final contest before the break was in Denver against a Nuggets team second place in the Western Conference. The Mavericks were thought to be in a battle with Denver as the two best challengers for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers .

Only one challenger showed up that evening.

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Denver won 127-91, making easy work of a Mavericks team whose play resembled a lottery team rather than one leading the Southwest division.

The chemistry was gone, players were frustrated, and change was a necessity.

In came Caron Butler , Brendan Haywood , and DeShawn Stevenson . Out went Gooden, Josh Howard , James Singleton , and Quinton Ross .

Four games have come and gone since the blockbuster trade between Dallas and the Washington Wizards, and not one practice has taken place.

It hasn't mattered.

The first glance in Oklahoma City was rough, and the shooting performance wasn't pretty to watch. However, Kevin Durant needed a cheap late game bucket to keep his 25-point or more streak alive.

The Mavericks have done the most effective job containing the league's newest explosive scorer. He has a season average of 22.3 points against Dallas, which is far below his tantalizing 29.7 scoring average.

The three most recent games have been amazing to witness.

A home win against the Phoenix Suns began the madness and was the start to a current three-game win streak.

This victory came on the defensive end, limiting the high-scoring Suns to just 97 points—that is 12 below their 109.3 season average. Jason Kidd and Haywood led the charge, and Kidd finished with a career-high seven steals while Haywood collected five blocks.

Down by 12 against the Orlando Magic on Friday night, the Mavericks never quit and battled like the veteran team they are.

The well-documented 19-0 run from third to fourth quarter showed poise and extraordinary defensive prowess. Dallas locked down and made the Magic uncomfortable. Once they took the lead, they held it for good, winning 95-85.

The Miami Heat came to town and played without Dwyane Wade . Perhaps allowing the Heat to hover around too long, Dallas used its defense to eventually pull away and win 97-91.

It wasn't the best of games, but the Mavericks forced turnovers and pushed the ball in transition, where they are as good as anyone.

There seems to be a renewed energy in the new-look Mavericks and it's spreading through everyone.

Butler and Haywood impact the team. It's very evident and makes the trade look like one of the best this year.

Give props and thanks to the Mavs Brain Trust. They were patient and addressed two vital needs for a team that was drifting the wrong way in the standings.

Haywood already is becoming a fan favorite.

It makes Mavericks fans giddy to see his defensive presence in the post and to watch him finish several slams with authority on the offensive end. He has played only four games as a Maverick and is getting consideration as the best Dallas center ever.

Butler has brought toughness that the Mavericks sorely needed. People underrate his defense. He brings it every night. He is paired with Shawn Marion on the wing, and Dallas now has size in two players who can effectively guard the other team's best scorer.

The new look has inspired Kidd who, since the trade, has averages of 15.3 points, 8.5 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 steals—all while shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Vintage Kidd numbers.

Looking at the last four games since the trade, Dallas is holding opponents to an even 93 points. Compare that number to the 112 points they were surrendering in the aforementioned stretch and you clearly see the change that has transpired in Big D.

The "D" is back.