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Friday, 21 February, 2003, 11:24 GMT
Mavericks on a roll

Is this really the same Dallas Mavericks side we have been watching these past few years?

At this point of the young season, Dallas are unquestionably the hottest team in the NBA, triumphant in their first 12 games.

Steve Nash (right) celebrates his side's latest success with assistant coach Donn Nelson
The Mavericks have had plenty to celebrate

The Mavs are sneaking up on history - the NBA's all-time mark for the best start ever is 15-0, a record shared by the 1948 Washington Capitols and the 1993 Houston Rockets.

That the Mavs have got off to a terrifically hot start is not a complete shock, as their roster has its share of All-Star talent.

The surprising thing is the way they have gone about getting those victories.

Michael Finley is rebounding, Shawn Bradley is playing more like an NBA centre, and here is the true shock - Dallas are playing solid team defence.

Under coach Don Nelson, the Mavs have in the past been capable of show-stopping offensive displays but with a defence that makes no stops.

In Dallas' 4-1 play-off loss to the Sacramento Kings last season, 115 of the Kings' 207 baskets were lay-ups or dunks.

Knowing a dramatic defensive improvement was needed to contend for a title, Nelson and the Mavs have made "D" the priority this season, and so far it is working.

At first glance, it appeared this was the same old Mavericks, as they sacrificed 108 points to the Memphis Grizzlies, the NBA's worst team, in the season opener.

But as the season has worn on, the defence has clamped down.

One night after a 97-86 away win against the Boston Celtics, Dallas visited the defending Easter Conference champions, the New Jersey Nets, and put on a defensive clinic in the fourth quarter.

The Dallas Mavericks' winning streak
30 Oct: 119-108 v Memphis
2 Nov: 97-83 v Phoenix
4 Nov: 107-100 v Golden State
6 Nov: 106-92 v Toronto
8 Nov: 114-87 v Chicago
9 Nov: 114-75 v Detroit
11 Nov: 82-73 v Portland
13 Nov: 103-99 v Cleveland
15 Nov: 97-86 v Boston
16 Nov: 96-88 v New Jersey
19 Nov: 98-72 v LA Lakers
21 Nov: 103-90 v Houston

Dallas held the Nets to just 15 points in that pivotal final period, coming back from a 67-73 deficit at the end of the third quarter to win 96-88 and run the victory streak to 10.

They followed that performance with a stunningly easy 98-72 home win against the Shaq-less LA Lakers, in which they held the defending NBA champions to a field goal percentage of 30.8, the lowest in Lakers history.

"We are contesting shots - guys aren't playing with their hands down by their sides," Mavericks guard Avery Johnson said after beating the Lakers.

"Guys are playing physical, and we're giving hard fouls."

Mavericks fans need not worry, the trademark flashy offence is still alive and well.

Point guard Steve Nash still makes jaw-dropping passes and Dirk Nowitzki's jumper is as silky as ever.

The only worry for Dallas supporters is whether the Mavs can maintain the superb defence until the real NBA season, the play-offs, begins.

To all outward appearances, the Mavericks look like they realise that, while starting the season with an NBA-record win streak would be nice, playing defence in May would be better.

"We'll have a practice that is based on defence tomorrow, and we'll just keep plugging away at it," Johnson said.

"We can't really get too excited about what's going on in November."

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