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Tyson Chandler is to Dallas as Kevin Garnett is to Boston? Dirk says true.

Dec 20, 2010, 6:20 PM EDT

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Last season, 26 games into the season, Dallas was 19-7 and it went on to a 55-win season.

This season their offensive production is almost identical, but the Mavs look like a different, better team. One you might really be scared of come the playoffs. They are 21-5 heading into a showdown with a rejuvenated Miami Heat team Monday.

Why? Because this year’s Mavericks are four points per 100 possessions better on defense than they were last season. They have gone from being average to being good. Good enough to make you start to believe that this time the playoffs are going to be different.

Why is that Dirk Nowitzki? Tyson Chandler, he told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s almost like when KG went to Boston,” Nowitzki said. “I don’t think Ray Allen or Paul Pierce were great defenders before KG got there, but KG with his energy and influence and high octane kind of changed the whole mentality of the defense.”

Count me among those still a little dubious of Dallas (particularly if the Lakers are healthy, at which point we become dubious of everyone else in the West). Still, no denying they are a better defensive team. And Chandler is likely the reason.

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