DALLAS – For the last two games, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has been staggering minutes at point guard between Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic.
Under that plan, the Mavs are a perfect 2-0.
Doncic contributed 32 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Smith added 19 points and five assists and the Mavs grinded out a 106-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons before a Friday night sellout crowd of 20,327 at American Airlines Center.
The Mavs, also with some major help on the defensive end of the court from Maxi Kleber against the Pistons, are now 22-26 going into Sunday’s 6 p.m. game at home against the Toronto Raptors.
Smith and Doncic started each half together, but at some point they each broke off and were not on the court together as they took turns running the offense. It’s a blueprint that has worked masterfully for the Mavs thus far.
“Look, those guys can play, there’s no doubt in my mind about it,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “And I like staggering them because it creates a different look.
“The important thing is to win games, and that is what we are trying to do.”
In addition to the backcourt play of Doncic and Smith, some terrific defensive plays by Kleber were critical for the Mavs down the stretch. Kleber blocked a pair of Blake Griffin shots in the fourth quarter, and hustled down the court and turned one of them into a 3-point field goal that extended the Mavs’ lead to 100-95.
“I’ve been working every day in the gym and I changed my shot in the summer, so I knew there would be ups and downs,” said Kleber, who was 4-of-7 from 3-point range and tallied 12 points. “I just have to believe in my shot and I just have to keep shooting.”
And keep playing aggressive face-to-face defense like he did against Griffin, whom Kleber battled down the stretch while he (Kleber) was nursing five fouls.
“Our key was to take Blake Griffin out of the game because he is obviously a good player that can make big shots and can make good decisions,” Kleber said. ”Our key was to trap him and make it hard for him.”
Shortly after Kleber’s first fourth-quarter block on Griffin, DeAndre Jordan (13 points, 11 rebounds) flew in and scored on a dunk via pass from Doncic. Not long after that, Doncic added a 15-foot fadeaway to pad the Mavs’ lead to 104-97 with 1:20 remaining in the game.
Andre Drummond (23 points, 15 rebounds) scored inside for the Pistons, but Doncic tossed in a pair of free throws with 56.5 left as the Mavs led, 106-99.
“I thought everyone played aggressive,” Carlisle said. “The game was won at the defensive end, which was great to see.
“It was a game we have to have as we are trying to claw our way back into the playoff picture.”
The Mavs shot 45.7 percent from the field, made 14 of 36 baskets from 3-point range, but got themselves in some serious trouble because they missed 12 of their 30 free throw attempts. Still, by committing just 10 turnovers and churning out 24 assists, the Mavs were able to keep the Pistons on their heels most of the night.
Smith in particular sped up the tempo by attacking the basket and scoring twice inside in the first quarter. Plus, a steal and fast break layup by Smith increased the Mavs’ lead to 56-43 late in the second quarter.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half,” Smith said, referring to the tempo being pushed to the point where Dallas led 62-54 at intermission. “I’m not sure how well we did with it in the second (half).
“A lot of it is just attacking the ball. We just got to run and keep pressure on the defense.”
That formula is certainly working well for the Mavs. So, too, is the formula of staggering Doncic and Smith as the primary operators of the offense.
“He’s back (and) we got two wins,” Doncic said of Smith. “He helps us a lot, not just in attacks.
“Obviously, he can do a lot of things. But on defense he’s aggressively fast, so he helps us a lot.”
NOTES: The 32 points Luka Doncic scored Friday were two shy of his career-high and repsents his fifth 3-point game of the season. That ties Mark Aguirre (1981-’82) for third place among 30-point games by a Mavs rookie. Jamal Mashburn collected seven 30-point games during his rookie season (1993-’94), while Jay Vincent contributed 15 games of 30 or more points as rookie during the 1981-82 campaign. . .DeAndre posted his fourth straight double-double Friday and now has 30 of those for the season. . .Maxi Kleber made a career-high four 3-pointers – in seven attempts – while tallying his 12 points. He Mavs are 7-3 this season when Kleber scores 10 or more point in a game.