The Fast Break: Mavs at Bulls

Final: Mavs 99, Bulls 98

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

With his first shot, Harrison Barnes set a new career-high for single-season scoring, with 829 points. That moved him ahead of his past total of 827 points set in 2014-15, when he played in all 82 games. To beat it, Barnes needed only 41. Pretty impressive stuff from the 24-year-old.

Speaking of 41, Dirk Nowitzki is now fewer than 300 points away from reaching 30,000 for his career. That’s going to be a special moment.

Wesley Matthews’ game-winning 3-pointer with 11.7 seconds left was just the second go-ahead bucket in the final 15 seconds of a game in his career, with the first coming on April 15, 2012. This was a good night to get it.

Notebook

  • Timely stops are the best kinds of stops when it comes to winning close games. The Mavericks took an 85-80 lead to begin the fourth quarter but eventually fell behind 94-90 late in the frame. But a Harrison Barnes 3-pointer and Deron Williams layup put the Mavs in front, and then Wesley Matthews dove on the floor to force a jump ball and Barnes stripped Jimmy Butler to get another stop. Altogether, the Mavs mounted a 6-0 run to reclaim the lead before a Doug McDermott floater tied it at 96 with 59.5 seconds left. Dallas came up with timely stops and big buckets to turn a disadvantage into a lead, and that’s not always easy to do on the road. But veteran players tend to find ways to make plays like that happen. They also find ways to improvise in big moments, as Williams found Matthews out of a double pick-and-roll up top for a go-ahead 3-pointer with 11.7 seconds left in the game. That was not the play’s first, second, or third option, but the Mavs found a way to make it happen.

  • Seth Curry has been on such a nice run lately, leading the NBA in 3-point percentage during the last month-plus. Tonight he was positively dynamic, scoring both from beyond and within the arc, and handing out some nifty assists as well, including a no-look, over-the-shoulder dime to a cutting Salah Mejri for a first-half dunk. Curry has been a revelation this season for the Mavericks, especially when playing with Deron Williams and Dirk Nowitzki together. In those situations he’s scoring 1.59 points per possession this season, per nbawowy.com. That is an absolutely absurd rate, and it’s because he doesn’t play with the pressure of having to initiate the offense, and he can feed off the extra space created with Nowitzki’s presence. This was only Curry’s 85th game as a pro, so he’s still essentially a second-year player despite being 26 years old. That’s an interesting mix between being in his physical prime while still learning the game and developing his ability. It’s all coming together at the right time for Curry.

  • This was the second game in a row where J.J. Barea erupted at the beginning of the fourth quarter to help give the Mavs some breathing room. On Sunday the point guard scored nine straight to bridge the third and fourth quarters, and tonight Barea scored five in a row to break an 80-all tie and give the Mavs an 85-80 advantage. Barea’s impact on this team is well-known by now, and he still routinely finds ways to make his mark on a nightly basis.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (14-27) play the Miami Heat (12-30) on Thursday at American Airlines Arena at 6:30 p.m. Central.

  • A statistical glimpse at Harrison Barnes’ growth in his first season as a Mav

    It would be an understatement to say Harrison Barnes has come a long way in his first season as a Maverick.

    Remember when he shot 26 percent during the preseason? That feels like an awfully long time ago at this point. He’s had seven games this season with a scoring output higher than the percentage he shot during exhibition season.

    Player development is not always linear; a player does not simply improve at every single facet of his game without ever taking a step back in a different area, and sometimes growth can take days, weeks, months, or years. Every case is different. In Barnes’, though, he has improved dramatically since signing as a Maverick. That, combined with a hugely increased workload over the one he carried during four seasons with the Golden State Warriors, has resulted in one of the most unexpected, pleasant surprises of the 2016-17 season: Barnes is averaging 20.7 points per game. Of the 32 other NBA players who can make that same claim, only eight are younger than him.

    And while in most cases achieving mastery might not follow a linear progression, Barnes’ first season in Dallas has followed an extraordinarily linear path. This feels like the right time to look back at how far he’s come this season, for two reasons. The first: Tonight the Mavericks will play their 41st game, reaching the halfway point of the season, and that has at least some symbolic value. The second: With 40 games in the books, and having appeared (and scored in double-digits) in every game so far, it’s a really round number and makes looking back in time much more convenient.

    So, without further ado, below is a chart displaying some of Barnes’ numbers during each 10-game segment of the 2016-17 campaign, as well as averages from both this season and his career before coming to Dallas.

    Series of Games Points/gm eFG% TS% Assists/gm AST% Usage %
    1-10 22.9 51.9 56.6 0.9 5.3 27.0
    11-20 18.8 45.3 48.7 1.4 8.5 26.1
    21-30 20.0 51.2 54.5 1.4 8.1 28.3
    31-40 20.9 54.8 57.8 2.0 10.6 26.8
    2016-17 Season 20.7 50.7 54.4 1.5 8.0 26.7
    Career Pre-DAL 10.1 50.1 53.5 1.5 7.4 16.3

    (Note: Effective field goal percentage, or eFG, measures a player’s field goal proficiency while factoring in the added value of the 3-point shot. True shooting percentage factors free throw attempts into the equation. Assist percentage measures the percentage of his teammates’ field goals he assisted while on the floor. Usage percentage, or USG, is an estimate of the percentage a player “used” while on the floor, meaning he took a shot, drew a foul, or turned the ball over. If each player had equal shares of the offense, their usage rate would each be 20 percent.)

    Barnes more than doubling his per-game scoring average is what will be the thing that is most obvious of all to most fans. In half a season he’s gone from fourth option to 20-point scorer. He will set his single-season career-high for points scored with his first basket tonight.

    But what is most striking and impressive about the season he’s had is that he’s increased his usage rate by more than 10 full percentage points while also maintaining higher effective field goal and true shooting percentages. What’s more, Barnes is playing a new position in the lineup, he’s taking mid-range shots more often than ever before, more of his shots have been contested, he’s consistently creating his own looks for the first time in his career, and he’s left behind three All-NBA teammates to become the lone 20-point scorer on his new team. And he’s hitting 3-pointers well below his career average. (What would his numbers look like if he was shooting 37 percent from 3, not 34 percent?) All of those factors should reduce efficiency. But they haven’t.

    This is not common.

    The next most impressive item to note is his upward-trending assist percentage from one 10-game set to the next. In his last 10 games, Barnes has assisted on more than 10 percent of his teammates’ makes while he’s been on the floor, and that’s particularly surprising because he had two zero-assist games during that stretch. They were balanced out, however, by two five-assist games, a mark that represents his career-high. He was never a fulcrum of the offense in Golden State, the player around which the entire offense revolved almost on a possession-by-possession basis, but that’s become the case in Dallas, especially late in games. He’s taken advantage of those opportunities lately both by scoring himself and distributing the ball to others.

    It is extremely rare for a player to see such a dramatic increase in usage rate while maintaining similar (or better) shooting numbers than the season before. That’s typically because 20-point-caliber players very rarely ever change teams, especially after their rookie contract. But the circumstances of last summer led to significant roster overhaul in the Bay Area, and Dallas took advantage by scooping up Barnes in free agency.

    His leap in involvement is on a scale not unlike James Harden’s first season in Houston, when he went from sixth man (yes, at one point The Beard was once only a sixth man) to essentially the Rockets’ point guard in one season. But his role in OKC’s offense was much larger than Barnes’ ever was with the Warriors; Harden had a 21.6 usage rate his final season with the Thunder before it jumped all the way up to 29.0 in his first season with his new team. Unlike Barnes, however, Harden’s efficiency went down significantly during that first campaign: His eFG percentage dropped from 58.2 in 2011-12 to 50.4 in 2012-13, and his true shooting dipped from 66.0 to 60.0. That doesn’t mean he was a failure that first season; in fact, those numbers are still quite good. It just means he was doing more stuff for the first time and needed some time to find his groove. Four years later, he’s averaging 28.4 points, 11.7 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game with a 52.6 eFG percentage and an unbelievable 52.1 assist rate, and is contending for the MVP.

    That isn’t to suggest Barnes will ever achieve those numbers, as they are practically unprecedented in NBA history. But Harden is one example of a player who changed teams and grew relatively seamlessly into his expanded role, and his team has enjoyed plenty of success since making that move, as well. The Rockets finished eighth in the West in his first season, losing to Harden’s old Thunder squad in the first round. They’ve since been to the Western Conference Finals and currently sit third in the West, on pace to approach 60 wins. Currently, the Mavericks are 3.5 games out of eighth place in the West in Barnes’ first season in town, with the club winning nine of its last 19 to get back into the playoff picture after starting just 4-17. Things are turning around after an injury-plagued start, but Barnes has been the constant all along.

    Harden’s case is probably the most recent example of such a young player seeing a massive increase in workload from one season to the next with a new team, and he’s now one of the best players in the NBA. Barnes, three years his junior, could be the next one. As the first 40 games have shown, his game is certainly headed in an upward direction at a very rapid pace. How much better can he become? That will be revealed in the coming seasons.

    It’s not unprecedented for players to succeed immediately in new teams. Steve Nash won the MVP in his first two seasons with the Phoenix Suns after leaving the Mavericks, but by then he was already 30 years old and fully in his prime. This is Barnes’ fifth season in the NBA, and he’s already experienced a lot in this league, but it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 24 years old. He’s younger than Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, John Wall, C.J. McCollum, and Kyrie Irving, just to name a few of the newest faces toward the top of the player pyramid. That means he can still get a lot better.

    Butler, against whom Barnes will play tonight, averaged just 13.1 points per game as a 24-year-old. He scored 20 a night for the first time the next season, and two years after that is now averaging 24.9 points per game as a 27-year-old.

    In other words, we have barely seen anything. Barnes is just now scratching the surface of the player he can one day become in this league, especially if he can stay healthy and continue to work as hard to perfect his game as he has during the first year of his four-year contract. But we’ve seen enough to know that Barnes can really play, and there’s still plenty of room to grow. It could take months, yet more than likely will take years, but Barnes has proven in just 40 games that he can be a special talent in a league full of more starpower than maybe ever before. That could be where he’s headed, and we’re just going along for the ride.

    Game 41: Mavs at Bulls

    Highlights: Mavs vs. Bulls

    Check out all the top plays from Tuesday night's 99-98 win over the Chicago Bulls.

    That’s What’s Up: Episode 5

    Don’t know what’s up? NBA champion Shawn Marion’s got you covered. Feast your ears on episode four of his new podcast, as “The Matrix” chops it up with Danny Bollinger on hoops, life and everything in between.

    Mavs’ veteran leaders Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea have sparked improved play

    DALLAS — Collecting back-to-back wins for just the third time during the 2016-17 season, the Dallas Mavericks will now embark on the road for a two-game trip with plenty of momentum and confidence.

    Downing the Phoenix Suns last Thursday in Mexico City with a 113-108 victory, the Mavericks (13-27) collected a much-needed win to end a three-game losing streak. The Mavs then kept trending in the right direction Sunday during a matinee matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves, sprinting to a 98-87 win in front of their hometown crowd. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the team’s recent resurgence can be credited to balanced scoring and the health of its veteran leaders, Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea.

    “We’re doing better, and the key for us to win is going to be balance on offense,” Carlisle said. “We need a lot of guys sharing the scoring responsibility and moving the ball, and it’s pretty clear we’re picking up the pace with Dirk and Barea back in there. You know, we’re showing signs of making some progress, and (Sunday) two things were really important. We did a much better job on the boards, and I thought just our energy and determination were really terrific.”

    Continuing to play at the starting center position, Nowitzki has shown glimpses of recapturing his elite form during the month of January, averaging 16.0 points on 44.9 percent shooting and 45.5 percent from three-point range in six games. Nowitzki has also clocked 28.5 minutes per outing during that span, showing no signs of the right Achilles strain injury that forced him to miss 14 straight games from Nov. 27 to Dec. 21.

    More importantly, Nowitzki’s presence on the court has begun to open up spacing at the offensive end of the floor for the 13-time All-Star’s teammates. And after seeing the Mavericks finish with six scorers in double figures for the second straight game, Nowitzki says he’s simply looking for his opportunities within Carlisle’s system.

    “I try not to obviously force bad shots, and I try to stay within the system,” the 38-year-old Nowitzki confessed after scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds during Sunday’s win. “You know, if it’s not there, swing it and run another pick-and-roll, and maybe somebody else gets a good shot. But if I get some daylight, I feel good. I have a decent rhythm now, and there are weeks where it feels like you can’t miss. And then there’s weeks when the easiest stuff is just not going, so we’re just going to have to try to keep this going and keep working on off days. Keep shooting, keep trying to work in extra conditioning, get even better and get even stronger legs-wise, and just keep on working.”

    While Nowitzki has added a spark to the starting lineup, Barea has boosted the Mavericks off the bench. And as one of just two carryovers from the Mavs’ 2011 title team, Barea has shown his value since battling his way back from nagging injuries this season.

    Missing seven straight games from Dec. 23 to Jan. 5 due to a left leg muscle strain, Barea has tried to make up for lost time since returning to the lineup. The undersized guard is averaging just 6.0 points and 4.8 assists in 13.4 minutes per game during the last four outings, but the 10-year veteran is also coming off arguably his best game since returning from the injury after scoring 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting, grabbing three rebounds and dishing three assists in 17 minutes of reserve action during Sunday’s win. Barea, 32, now hopes to continue contributing as the Mavericks begin their two-game road trip Tuesday in Chicago. And according to the cat-quick guard, the improved health of himself and Nowitzki could help the Mavs carry over their current momentum.

    “We’re definitely feeling better,” Barea proclaimed. “We can’t do it like we used to do it, but every once in a while we definitely look for [Nowitzki], and he can do his thing.  (Sunday morning) and warming up I was feeling better, finally. I’m not completely there yet, but I got into a little rhythm and the ball went in. And I just kept being aggressive.

    “We’re in a good place right now. We know we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think we’ve got a good feeling around this locker room. We’re definitely going to go on the road with a lot of confidence, and we’ll try to get those two wins.”

    Note: The Mavericks will now travel to Chicago for Tuesday’s matchup against the Bulls. Dallas leads the season series 1-0 after a 107-82 home win over the Bulls on Dec. 3. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

    The Mavs return to American Airlines Center on Friday, hosting the Utah Jazz. Utah leads the season series 2-0. That game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

    Injury updates:
    Andrew Bogut (right hamstring strain) — out

    The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Wolves

    Final: Mavs 98, Wolves 87

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    The Mavericks scored 1.167 points per possession in the first half. The league-wide average always hovers somewhere around 1.03 PPP, so that means the Dallas offense was absolutely sizzling in the first two frames, en route to 56 points. It’s the second straight game the Mavs have scored at least that many points in the first act. The big catalyst today was free throw attempts — Dallas took 17 free throws as a team in the first two quarters, which is as many or more as they’d taken in their previous four games. When you can get that many attempts from the charity stripe, the points are going to come efficiently.

    Dirk Nowitzki enjoyed his third straight game with at least three 3-pointers. That’s tied for the second-longest streak of his NBA career, with his longest, four games, coming in November 2001. Even at age 38, Nowitzki is doing things he hasn’t done in some time. He also moved into ninth place all-time in minutes played, at 47,620.

    Notebook

  • The second quarter belonged to Dirk Nowitzki. The highlight reel below pretty much says it all, and his final shot approaching Steph Curry range sent the AAC into a frenzy.

    Dirk has now had two pretty efficient scoring nights in a row, counting back to the Mavs’ win in Mexico City on Thursday night. Obviously the better Nowitzki plays, the better the Mavs’ chances are of winning.

  • Dirk dunked on Thursday night, and Wesley Matthews dunked today. It was his first slam of the 2016-17 season, and it was a good one — a two-hander against Karl-Anthony Towns after a baseline drive.

    Matthews might not dunk often, but he’s so much more explosive this season than he was last season, now more than a year removed from recovering from a ruptured Achilles. Maybe the dunks will start coming more often for him.

  • Harrison Barnes has been on an offensive tear lately, and while his numbers tonight might not have dazzled the same way they have in recent contests, it should be noted that in this game he was matched up almost exclusively Towns, one of the better defenders in the league. Barnes has tremendous strength for his size, but Towns is strong, too, so Barnes found it difficult at times to create separation at the rim. Still, he reached double-figures in scoring for the 40th straight game to begin his Mavericks career. He might not score 25 every night — yet — but he can still be counted on to give you some scoring every game.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (13-27) play the Chicago Bulls (20-21) on Tuesday at the United Center at 7 p.m. Central.

  • Game 40: Mavs vs. Timberwolves

    Highlights: Mavs vs. T-Wolves

    Check out all the top plays from Sunday's 98-87 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.