Sluggish starts have cost Mavs during first three outings of four-game homestand

DALLAS — It proved to be their demise Wednesday during a 125-122 defeat to the defending champion Golden State Warriors. It struck again two nights later in a 127-124 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Now, after another lackluster beginning to Sunday’s 100-96 loss to New York, the Dallas Mavericks hope to address their sluggish starts prior to Tuesday’s matchup against Orlando.

Surrendering 25 combined points to the duo of two-time MVP Stephen Curry and reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant in the first quarter, the Mavericks (13-28) trailed 35-26 after the opening period of Wednesday’s loss. The Mavs again put themselves in an uphill climb during Friday’s contest against Chicago, allowing the Bulls to make their first eight shots from the field and sliding into a 13-point deficit before trailing 34-28 entering the second stanza. Sunday, the Mavericks’ slow starts again caught up with them after ending the first period down 33-25. And despite seeing his team make valiant comebacks in all three of those games, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle knows the start to Tuesday’s matchup must be better in order to avoid a winless homestand.

“It’s really the same old story. It’s an early hole, it’s a late rally, and then coming up short. The bottom line is we’ve got to be better early in games,” Carlisle confessed after Sunday’s loss.

“We’ve just got to defend better early in games. That’s where we are,” the coach matter-of-factly added.

The Mavericks’ early defensive struggles certainly were their demise Sunday evening, allowing the Knicks to make 14 of their 19 shots in the opening quarter. All told, the Mavs are giving up 34 points per outing and allowing 65 percent shooting in the first period during the first three games of their current homestand. That must change if the Mavericks hope to end their three-game skid Tuesday night. But as 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki also points out, the Mavs can’t afford to ease into Tuesday’s game if they hope to collect a win.

“We’re just giving up too many points, really. It was the same with Chicago,” Nowitzki admitted after another slow start on Sunday. “[The Bulls] started off 8 for 8, and that’s tough. It was the same (Sunday night). They scored 33 (points) the first quarter and shot like 75 percent. We’re not good enough to ease into the game. We’ve got to be on all the time and play a little harder from the get-go.”

Entering their homestand with a four-game win streak after three straight victories on the road, the Mavericks are admittedly struggling to rekindle that success. The lengthy win streak may have also masked the team’s defensive issues after averaging 110 points during the four-game stretch. Now, the Mavericks hope to bring their defensive intensity up to the level of their offensive success. And with the Magic currently ranked 16th in the league while averaging 105.1 points per game, the Dallas defense will have a golden opportunity to carry the Mavs to a much-needed win.

“We might have gotten a little too relaxed with our winning streak,” rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. candidly said. “We’re not coming out with enough intensity on both ends of the court.”

Note: The Mavericks will now conclude their homestand on Tuesday at American Airlines Center against the Orlando Magic. The 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:

Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out

Game 40: Mavs vs. Bulls

Powell Alley-Oop

J. J. Barea lobs a pass over the defense to Dwight Powell for an alley-oop.

Despite pushing defending champion Warriors for 48 minutes, Mavs take no solace in heartbreaking loss

DALLAS — Although the Dallas Mavericks showed just how well they measure up against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors during Wednesday’s 125-122 defeat at home, falling on two-time MVP Stephen Curry’s game-winning three-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining left them admittedly dumbfounded.

Staging a late-game rally to tie the game at 120-all with 39.7 seconds remaining after leading scorer Harrison Barnes capped a 10-0 run, the Mavericks (13-26) traded haymakers with the Warriors for the better part of four quarters. The Mavs then failed to close the game strong on the defensive end of the floor, leading to Curry’s pull-up three-pointer from the top of the key. But despite pushing the reigning titleholders for nearly the entire game, the Mavericks weren’t willing to settle for a moral victory as they turn their attention to Friday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls.

“This is who we were supposed to be all along. You know, we don’t really have a moral victory here that we took the champs to a one-possession game. We felt in our hearts that we were supposed to win that one,” veteran swingman Wesley Matthews said after scoring 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 7 of 10 from three-point range to lead the Mavericks in a losing effort. “Obviously, they’re a great team and they’re the champs for a reason, but we’re not happy right now. You know, we’ve got another tough team coming in. Chicago is playing well, so we’ve got to learn from this one and be ready to go again.”

Led by Matthews’ stellar shooting night, the Mavericks stayed in the game while being outshot as a team, 52.7 percent to 47.8 percent. Golden State also added a 46-40 rebounding edge while converting Dallas’ 13 turnovers into 20 points, overshadowing the Mavericks’ 19-of-43 shooting from behind the three-point arc. However, after a miscommunication led to Curry capping his 32-point night with a wide-open three-pointer, the Mavs weren’t satisfied with their defensive effort down the stretch. That said, the Mavericks did applaud the fight they showed after withstanding a 12-point deficit.

“It’s tough,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki admitted. “We fought back incredibly hard. We really fought back from an uphill battle all night long. They hit us with cuts and backdoor splits, and they just had too many layups all night long. But we kind of stuck around, we kept fighting, and we made some good plays the last two minutes to kind of get back in it. And it’s obviously a tough way to lose.”

“We didn’t win the game, but I think everybody on our team came out and gave it everything they had, so you can’t ask for more than that,” rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. added. “It was just some miscommunication up top. That’s it, and it’s something we can fix. It was a bad time for it to happen, and I think that was the best look that [Curry] got all night. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a learning situation.”

After seeing their four-game win streak fall by the wayside, the Mavericks hope to learn from the late-game miscues in time for Friday’s showdown against the Bulls (13-25). Meanwhile, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle hopes the team can match the resiliency it showed during Wednesday’s loss after continuously putting up a valiant fight. Still, according to Carlisle, the Mavs will have to be better down the stretch of securing timely loose balls and collecting late-game stops in order to get back on track.

“We made a great comeback. When you’re 10 or 12 down with three minutes to go, you’ve got to pitch a shutout pretty much. We did some great things defensively, we got some steals, hit some threes, and Barnes made a great play to tie it back up after they scored on the (Klay) Thompson play. And then they ran it back at us. We had a foul to give, but we were unable to give it, and Curry got the shot. So, there you go.

“But I’m really pleased about the way we played, with how hard we played and we kept coming and kept coming,” the coach added. “You know, there were some things that were very frustrating with some missed free throws and some missed rebounds that were seemingly in our grasp, and we had a finger on it or something like that, and that’s why the possession game is so important in this league.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to their home floor and continue their four-game homestand on Friday night at American Airlines Center against the Chicago Bulls. The 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:

Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out

Game 39: Mavs vs. Warriors

Rookie Dennis Smith Jr.’s late-game execution has helped to spark Mavs’ four-game winning streak

DALLAS — Although it’s just a small sample size during his rookie season, first-year floor general Dennis Smith Jr. has shown how much he relishes being in the big-time moment for the Dallas Mavericks during the last four games.

Sparking a four-game winning streak, Smith has been on the floor in each of those contests as the Mavericks (13-25) secured a victory late in the fourth quarter. He’s also stepped up his play when the Mavericks needed him most, including scoring the team’s final 11 points Sunday to clinch a 116-113 victory in Oklahoma City. And according to the ninth overall selection in last June’s NBA Draft, more success is to come as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and the team’s veteran leaders entrust him with opportunities down the stretch of games.

“It’s all about just trusting each other at the end of games,” Smith said after scoring 19 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing six assists during Sunday’s win. “We’ve got a team that we like each other outside of basketball, so it’s not hard to do. It’s just been taking some time, but I think we’ve figured it out now, though.

“I just go out there and do what I do. The last four games have been close ones. I’ve been in the last four games, we won the last four games, so something is working.”

On the season, Smith is averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 30 games, shooting 39.6 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range. He’s also increased his production during the last four games, averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in that span while upping his playing time from 27.7 minutes an outing on the season to 28.9 during the winning streak. Still, despite seeing plenty of personal success during the Mavs’ recent victorious stretch, Smith says he’s just been eager to help contribute to a string of wins.

“I wouldn’t say it adds fuel to the fire. Like I told coach [Carlisle] the other day, I expect to have big games. You know, whenever I have bad games, that will motivate me even more. But coming out and having big games, I definitely want to repeat it. But I kind of expect it. … It’s about wanting the moment. If you want it, I wanted it, and I wanted to be in a position to shoot it at the end of the game,” Smith explained.

The 20-year-old has seen his fair share of historic moments throughout his rookie year, debuting with 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season opener on Oct. 18 to become the youngest player in NBA history to record a double-double with points and assists in his first game. He also recently recorded his first career triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists during the Mavs’ 128-120 win Friday in New Orleans, becoming the third-youngest player in league history to reach the feat and the youngest Mav ever to do so. However, it’s Smith’s recent late-game play that is earning the respect of Carlisle and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. That said, Smith figures to have the ball in his hands late once again moving forward.

“I mean, Dennis has been spectacular for us in crunch time, making plays and getting to the basket,” Nowitzki said following Sunday’s win. “He’s finding guys on the perimeter. … I mean, it always comes down to getting stops, getting rebounds and scoring on the other end, and (Sunday) we kind of did it by committee. I mean, [Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook] hit a huge three. [Smith] hit two big threes, and that gave us a nice little lead to close it out.”

“He was great (Sunday night). You know, he finished the game with a couple of big baskets and some big free throws,” Carlisle added while praising the rookie point guard. “Look, it was an up-and-down night. There were a lot of pick-and-rolls, and they were trapping him. He hasn’t seen that. He went through some situations, but he kept his energy up, he kept his head up and he kept attacking. He kept encouraging everybody in the huddles during timeouts, too, so it was just so much growth. I’m really happy for him.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to their home floor on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Golden State leads the season series 2-0. The 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:

Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out

Game 38: Mavs at Thunder

GAME RECAP: Mavericks 116, Thunder 113

Harrison Barnes leads the Mavericks with 24 points as Dallas takes down Oklahoma City 116-113. Russell Westbrook had a triple-double for the Thunder with 38 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Despite first career triple-double, Mavs rookie Dennis Smith Jr. knows there’s room to grow

OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite filling up the stat sheet Friday night in New Orleans while recording his first career triple-double during a 128-120 win, Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. still knows there’s plenty of things he needs to work on moving forward.

Scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range, Smith led the way to the Mavericks’ third straight victory while grabbing a career-high 10 rebounds and dishing 10 assists. In the process, Smith became the third-youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double behind Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and four-time MVP LeBron James at 20 years, 34 days old. He also became the youngest Mav to register a triple-double in franchise history. But after also committing seven turnovers in the win, Smith says he will need to take much better care of the ball in order to lead the Mavericks (12-25) to more success.

“It feels great since we won, but I almost had a quadruple-double. I had a lot of turnovers. But my teammates picked me up, and they told me to keep playing. My coaches said the same thing, so they showed confidence in me to play through mistakes. That just gave me extra confidence to go out there and do my thing,” Smith admitted.

Smith is no stranger to triple-doubles, recording two during his lone collegiate season at North Carolina State. He also was the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play, becoming the first player to lead the conference among freshmen in points and assists since Ed Cota during the ’96-97 season. Now, Smith is the first Mav to record a triple-double since Raymond Felton on Dec. 12, 2015.

However, according to both Smith and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, it’s the costly miscues that the first-year floor general needs to correct in order to reach his maximum potential. And after showing that he can play through those mistakes, Smith will attempt to correct them in time for Sunday’s matchup in Oklahoma City.

“I mean, it happened in college twice for me, so it’s not foreign to me,” Smith said while downplaying his do-it-all play. “Knowing personnel, that’s one thing that’s important. Knowing the plays, knowing which guys are going to be where, how the team is going to defend it and if this option is going to be available, it’s a lot that goes into it. I mean, you learn all that through film and making mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes, but you’ve got to play through them. It’s bound to happen, but you’ve got to move on to the next play. It’s all about keeping that confidence throughout the game.”

“It’s a great sign that he’s really critical of his turnovers, ’cause those are an example of another important event that happened,” Carlisle echoed. “Every time that we turn the ball over as a team it’s leading to something bad. And when the point guard gets turnovers, often times he’s penetrating the lane, and that puts him at a disadvantage coming back and transition defense becomes another event. There’s a lot going on with this, but our message has got to be consistent to him. You know, we drafted him because we think he can be a great player and one of the best players ever to play in a Mavericks uniform, on the one hand. On the other hand, the things that are really essential to winning and are very nuance aren’t screaming out to the world the way a triple-double is. So, I spent some time with him this morning watching some things that he needs to clean up. And he’s understanding that, which is a huge step.”

Note: The Mavericks will now head Oklahoma City and conclude their road trip Sunday against the Thunder. The season series is tied at 1-1. The game will tip off at 6 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 their home floor next Wednesday night at American Airlines Center against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Golden State leads the season series 2-0. The 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:

Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out

Game 37: Mavs at Pelicans

GAME RECAP: Mavericks 128, Pelicans 120

Dennis Smith Jr. notches a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists as the Mavericks get the win over the Pelicans, 128-120.