With 1:20 left in the fourth quarter of a 90-89 game, the Mavs in the lead and with possession, Seth Curry came off a ball-screen on the left wing and surveyed the court. To his right, he saw Dirk Nowitzki perched atop the arc, ready to catch and shoot the same straightaway 3-pointer he’s made a thousand times. To his left, Curry saw Harrison Barnes, the beneficiary of a mismatch after the Heat switched the pick-and-roll.

Curry looked at Nowitzki, then Barnes, then back at Nowitzki. A couple months ago, and for almost 20 years before then, Dirk may have demanded the ball. But this time, he pointed at Barnes, signaling to his much younger teammate that the 24-year-old on the block deserved the ball in the biggest moment of the game.

The 26-year-old combo guard tossed the ball in to Barnes in the post. He backed his man down, turned, rose, and drew a shooting foul.

Much has been made this season of the symbolic passing of the torch Nowitzki appears to be taking part in with Barnes, but more recently a similar thing has been happening with Curry, who all of a sudden is looking like the Mavs’ next smooth-scoring combo guard in the Rick Carlisle era.

Since becoming a full-time starter on Jan. 12, Curry is averaging 16.0 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting from the field and a ridiculous 47.2 percent from deep. He’s hit 40 percent or better from beyond the arc on at least five attempts in each of his last six games, and he’s had scoring nights of 24, 22, 31, and 29 since Jan. 29. The latter two games have both come within the last week.

By now we understand that Barnes is becoming the kind of go-to scorer teams crave. He doesn’t need to be the centerpiece of the offense, per se, but he can be relied on to create something out of nothing if need be in order to generate points for his team. But Curry has done the same thing since becoming a starter. He’s the only player on the team to average more points per fourth quarter (4.4) than Barnes (4.3) since the starting lineup change on Jan. 12. Curry is shooting 62.0 percent from the field in final frames, including 61.9 percent on 3s. The Mavericks are 13-8 in that time.

“He’s a legit NBA scorer now,” Nowitzki said of Curry. “He’s got the 3-ball, he’s got the in-between game, he’s got all his floaters, left, right. His confidence level is just out of this world. He thinks he’s gonna make every shot. He’s been on an incredible tear since we put him in the starting lineup. He’s been producing every night for us. But, like I said, he just has that confidence, that swagger.”

Curry has made it clear again and again during his blistering two-month run of hot shooting dating back to December that, despite already appearing in more games this season (55) than he had in his entire career before this season (48), he never lacked the confidence to become a big-time — and big-moment — scorer. His teammates agree, with Barnes going as far as to say once Curry proved to head coach Rick Carlisle that he can produce at 2-guard with the starters, he’s now earned more freedom within the offense.

“That was a big turning point for him,” Barnes said of his teammate. “He just started to be more aggressive. Coach is very methodical in his play calls. He gave him a little bit of leash, he did well, and then he kind of gave him a little more rope, and he’s been able to have success with that.”

With the freedom to produce and create also comes great responsibility. Since becoming a starter, only Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki attempt more shots per game than Curry. Dallas is now 5-2 in games when he scores at least 20 points, and while correlation doesn’t always equal causation, it seems that the better Curry plays, the better the Mavericks are. Especially in light of backcourt injuries and roster moves in recent weeks, that means there’s pressure on Curry to produce every time he takes the floor.

“I accept the challenge as fun,” Curry said. “I go out there and get the chance to impact the game on a high level every night, make plays with the ball, without the ball. I’m having a lot of fun. Everybody looks like they’re having fun out there competing.”

In that way, Curry has the same responsibility as Barnes: Score, and score efficiently, even as defenses now begin to focus their gameplans around those two. It used to be that Barnes and Curry might not have even warranted a mention on opponents’ scouting reports, yet now the Mavs are constantly feeding them in crunch time. The ball was in Curry’s hands virtually every time down the floor late in the Mavs’ 96-89 win against the Heat, and oftentimes it meant Curry using a Barnes ball-screen to create some action; the pair combined for 53 points, and they were the only two Mavericks in double-figures. Perhaps a two-man game is emerging.

“They both complement each other very well,” Nowitzki said. “HB’s got that nice in-between game on the switch, he’s got the free throw line iso, he can back his little guy down. If they show, he can pick-and-pop, and Seth can come off aggressively and shoot or get to the lane and use his floater. It’s definitely fun to watch.”

Nowitzki is the two-man game expert, having worked in partnership with Steve Nash, Jason Terry, and Monta Ellis among others at various points in his career. The first key to developing any type of two-man game is the two players must develop almost a telepathic connection with one another, able to read and react to situations with the same exact thought process. One can’t zig while the other zags. The German said each case is different, but his relationship with Ellis developed very quickly because their games complemented one another so well.

Therein lies the other key to a two-man combo: The two players’ games must blend together. You can’t have two guys who want to work from the same spots or chase the same kinds of shots. Nowitzki and Terry, for example, were both excellent mid-range shooters in their time together, but Terry loved the right baseline while Nowitzki loved the elbow. That meant the big man could screen for Terry to get to his sweet spot without overlapping Nowitzki’s.

A symbiotic relationship can only survive in harmony if both partners can do what they do best. Although they’ve played together less than one season, Barnes said he and Curry seem to have the right kinds of games to make it work.

“We have a good two-man game,” Barnes said. “It’s nice to be able to screen, and if he wants to pass it that’s great, but he also can go off the bounce, he can get to the rim and make shots. And then when I get it, work on just finding him again. We’ve got good chemistry.”

Curry is more well-known for his long-range shooting than his finishing ability in the paint, but he’s been terrific at the rim for most of this season. After coming off one Barnes screen in Monday’s win against the Heat, Curry felt his defender on his hip and slowly dribbled into the paint to read Barnes’ defender.

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Barnes has been money from the short left baseline this season (52 percent for the year) so it’s understandable that his defender wouldn’t want to completely abandon him. Meanwhile, Hassan Whiteside would be free to roam the paint were it not for the aerial threat presented by Nerlens Noel. That leaves Curry some room to get to the rim if he can be patient and let the play develop, which he does, and he scores.

But their partnership isn’t all about Curry. If the defense over-commits to him, Barnes can make opponents pay, too. In isolation against a defensive switch this season, he’s scored 62 points in 57 possessions, per Synergy. He scores more efficiently in those situations than Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and LeBron James.

As the season has worn on, Barnes has become much more comfortable making plays for his teammates off the dribble. In the play below he attacks and collapses the scrambling defense before delivering a pass to Curry for an incredibly deep 3.

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It was a nice drive-and-kick by Barnes (and a gutsy shot by Curry), but the whole play doesn’t happen if Curry doesn’t slip him the pass after recognizing Barnes’ defender was committed to the ball, not his man.

“I’m trying to make the right reads coming off,” Curry said. “They’re gonna give him a lot of attention when he sets those screens. They’re gonna switch or not leave his body as much. When he gets that sliver (of space) I’m trying to deliver him the ball, but my first job is to come off being aggressive. We’re doing a good job of getting a lot of guys touches off it. It’s tough to defend.”

Every NBA player is confident, but not every NBA player is aggressive enough to force the issue. This play below is forcing the issue.

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Curry comes off Barnes’ high-screen hard ready to attack. He’s got a quickness advantage against Nemanja Bjelica, who back-pedals in anticipation of a Curry drive. But, noticing the extra breathing room that little step gave him, Curry rises for the shot instead.

The Mavs have become more creative, too, with forcing defenses into awkward situations. Against Miami, for example, Nerlens Noel “screened the screener,” setting an off-ball screen on Barnes’ man, who then in turn screens for Curry.

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That can create mass confusion to even super-disciplined defenses. With all that traffic, are they switching or not? Who’s calling out the screen for whose man? What’s even going on? Through all that chaos, Curry found some space to step into an open 3-pointer.

As the Mavs continue to rely on Nowitzki and also work to integrate Noel further into the picture, there could be some interesting lineups rolled out in the coming weeks. Curry and Barnes have been constants, though, each separately enjoying career-best seasons. And there’s a chance that they could be working together more often, and potentially for many years to come.

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