Mavericks’ defense proves team has yet to fill major hole

Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks
Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks / Tim Heitman/GettyImages

The Dallas Mavericks suffered a major loss Monday as the team fell to the Denver Nuggets 130-104. All-Star Luka Doncic did his part by dropping in a double-double with 38 points and 11 rebounds.

Dante Exum was the Mavs' second-leading scorer Monday, with 11 points on 100 percent shooting. This is the guard's six-straight game of scoring 10 points or more.

However, besides Doncic and Exum, Dallas struggled to get points from the rest of the team.

Mavericks’ defense proves team has yet to fill major hole

So, what seems to be the problem? Could it be that Dallas shot 33 percent from the 3-point line? What about the team's defense? Could it perform well without rookie Dereck Lively?

For starters, the Mavs' defense allowed Denver to shoot 53.8 percent from behind the arc. The Nuggets also converted 56.3 percent of their shot attempts.

The main struggle came inside the paint. Dallas allowed the Nuggets to score 60 points down low and were outrebounded defensively 37-28.

The real problem? The Mavs' defense took a hit when it was announced rookie Dereck Lively II would be out with a left ankle sprain. The Dallas rookie suffered the injury Saturday during the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers.

With Lively II out, the Dallas Mavericks must find a big who can control the paint and keep the other team from scoring so many easy points down low. However, that's the issue. The team has no backup center that can match Lively's intensity.

On paper, Dwight Powell is the Mavs' backup center. This is a role Powell is getting accustomed to, as he has been the team's starting center over the past two seasons. Last year, he started in 64 of his 76 games played.

No disrespect to Powell, but he does not have the same characteristics as Lively II. He is a good rim roller and hustler, but he struggles on the defensive end. Lively II is a rim protector who can switch on the perimeter and clear up space down low.

The defense is the concern. Last month, the Dallas Morning News released a report comparing the Mavs' defense with Lively II on and off the court. (subscription required) The piece mentioned that whenever Lively II is on the court, Dallas has a 110.7 defensive rating. However, the team has a 114.8 rating when he is off the court.

So, in basic terms the Mavs' defense is flat without Lively II.

The Dallas Mavericks currently rank 23rd in the league's defensive rating. This is a two-spot increase from last season. This can largely be attributed to Lively II.

If Dallas hopes to make a deep playoff run it will need to find another big who can match Lively II's skill set.

Could Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart be a possibility? We will have to wait and see.

For all the latest on Dereck Lively II and the Dallas Mavericks this season, stay tuned.