NEW ORLEANS – Dennis Smith Jr. will be back in the starting lineup Friday at 7 p.m. when the Dallas Mavericks face the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Arena.
Smith missed 10 of the last 11 games with a sprained right wrist, and the Mavs posted a 4-6 record during his absence. The second-year point guard said he was frustrated while watching his teammates struggle without him and can’t wait to get back out on the court and lend a helping hand.
“It feels like it’s been like two months or something, but I just decided to get back out there and compete and get a road win,” Smith said, referring to how long he’s been sidelined. “(The wrist) feels good.
“I’m not shooting with any tape on it or anything, so it’s pretty much back to normal. It gets a little sore after a while, but I ice it, keep heat on it during the game and during any activity and afterwards.”
Considered one of the fastest players in the NBA when dribbling the ball from one end of the court to the other, Smith’s speed and ability to attack the paint and create advantages for the Mavs has been sorely missed.
“It’s great to have his speed, his athleticism,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said after Friday morning’s shootaround. “He’s been out for a while.
“I think that’s part of why we struggled a bit. We need his play-making, his ability to get in the lane and create stuff for us.”
Rookie Jalen Brunson mostly started in Smith’s absence, although the Mavs went with a bigger starting lineup this past Wednesday against New Orleans when they instead decided to start forward Maxi Kleber and make rookie Luka Doncic the starter at point guard.
Coach Rick Carlisle said Smith and Doncic were meshing very well together on the court before the former suffered an injury. He added that critics are making way too much of Smith’s ability to be effective while playing off the ball.
“In my view it’s a very over-analyzed aspect of our team, and people need to get off of it and let these guys play and grow together,” Carlisle said. “That’s the right way to approach this.
“Look, we have two point guards out there. Let’s quit looking at it as Dennis is getting relegated to playing off the ball. We’ve got two point guards out there — which is a great advantage — and we just got to take advantage of that and create a balance and cause problems for teams.”
For his part, Smith said he can’t control what critics say or write.
“Everybody’s got their own opinion and they’re entitled to it,” Smith said. “It ain’t my control.”
Smith added that he and Doncic indeed had some nice building blocks going their way – until he suffered his injury.
“We were one of the top teams in the West when I went out,” Smith said. “I think it was growing. I just got to work my way back into the game, find a rhythm and let it come to me.
“We got to sixth (in the Western Conference), then we dropped to 12, 13, something that’s out of the playoffs. I don’t really think that’s great for the morale of the team. I feel like I could have contributed to some of those games, so it is what it is. I’m ready to play now.”
In other words, sitting during the games in street clothes was no longer an option for Smith. But since he missed four games, then had an unsuccessful comeback when he played on Dec. 13 at Phoenix, Smith wanted to be very cautious when he returned to the court this time around.
“It’s just tough sitting out,” Smith said. “I already missed a year. I missed my whole high school senior year (with injuries), so I’m not really trying to miss any more time.
“So any time I’ve got to sit out, I’m really anxious to get back out there. But I understand that it’s a part of recovery.”
Part of that recovery is getting over the mental aspect of having to use that sprained wrist to break his fall. Smith knows that time will obviously come at some point.
“I would try to avoid it if possible,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’ll affect me too much if I did.
“I haven’t done it yet and I don’t plan on doing it tonight.”