Game 78: Mavs vs. Blazers

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DALLAS – As an inquisitive interviewer was asking the first question following the Dallas Mavericks’ 115-109 upset victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, coach Rick Carlisle excitedly intervened and asked a very pertinent question of his own.

Carlisle asked: “You don’t want to talk about that dunk?”

Oh, yeah. That dunk.

The dunk Carlisle was referring occurred Tuesday night when Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. stole a pass at midcourt and found no one stationed between himself and the basket. The crowd –expecting something memorable, something electrifying, something to one day tell the grandkids — rose to its feet anticipating one of those magical moments.

And then it happened.

One of the NBA’s most prolific creative dunkers, Smith darted down court, then bounced the basketball high off the floor, caught it in midair and slammed it through the rim, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 19,624 at American Airlines Center. The spectacular dunk came with 1:19 remaining in the game and brought the Mavs’ bench to its collective feet.

“I’ve never seen that,” Carlisle said. “That was unbelievable!

“He should have pulled that one out in the All-Star game.”

Smith, who was eliminated in the first round of the slam dunk contest during this past February’s All-Star game, didn’t give himself high marks for style on the dunk that highlighted a victory which increased the Mavs’ record to 24-54.

“I just got a (fast) break, I was wide open and I had a lot of time, so that just happened,” Smith said. “It was a bad toss on that one.

“I’ve got to clean up my toss a little bit. I might have gotten some more points if I had done that (in the All-Star game).”

Smith’s dunking exploits was just one of the many things the Mavs performed well on a night when they took down the No. 3 team in the Western Conference and a Portland team that flew to Dallas tied with Cleveland for the fifth-best record in the entire NBA.

“It feels good to get a win, that’s for sure,” said Smith, who finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and only one turnover. “We came out and we fought from the beginning to the end and we held onto the lead at the end.”

That spectacular dunk by Smith padded the Mavs’ lead to 107-99. But the Blazers (48-30) didn’t go down quietly, as a step-back 3-pointer by Damian Lillard got Portland within 113-109 of the Mavs with 3.5 seconds left.

Doug McDermott then closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws that put a nice little bow on a picturesque night for the Mavs.

“Everyone played well,” Carlisle said. “Really, the effort was good all night.”

Portland’s backcourt tandem of C.J. McCollum and Lillard came in averaging a combined 53 points in the Blazers’ two wins over Dallas earlier this season. But Lillard missed 14 of his 20 shots in scoring 29 points on Tuesday, and McCollum misfired on 11 of his 18 field goals and finished the night with just 16 points.

“We fought their guards,” Carlisle said. “Lillard had a big night, but McCollum didn’t go crazy. And we rebounded with them pretty well, so a lot of good things happened.”

Mavs guard J. J. Barea was back on the court after missing the previous four games for personal reasons, and he made an immediate impact. Barea’s 11 points – nine of them coming via three 3-pointers – helped the Mavs complete the first quarter deadlocked with Portland at 22-all.

A late 3-pointer by Dirk Nowitzki (14 points) enabled the Mavs to go to the halftime dressing room nursing a 50-49 lead. And the Mavs stretched that lead to 82-78 entering the frantic fourth quarter.

Maxi Kleber’s second of two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter gave the Mavs some breathing room and a 104-94 cushion with 3:13 remaining.

“Kleber’s 3-point shooting is really on the rise” Carlisle said. “The two he banged in probably won the game for us in the fourth quarter.”

Overall, balanced scoring by the Mavs helped keep the Blazers off-balanced. Other than Smith and Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Yogi Ferrell and Barea each popped in 15 points, and Dwight Powell added 12 points along with six rebounds.

Meanwhile, knociking off a Blazers’ team that has high playoff aspirations did wonders for the Mavs, who will play in Orlando on Wednesday night.

“Beating a three seed, that shows what we’re capable of,” Smith said. “It definitely shows that we’re capable.”

Notes: Mavs guard Dorian Finney-Smith did not play in Tuesday’s night against Portland. But coach Rick Carlisle said Finney-Smith, who played his college ball at Florida, will play in Wednesday’s game in Orlando. . . Asked what went on in his head when he saw nothing but daylight between himself and the goal when he executed that unforgettable dunk late Tuesday night, Dennis Smith Jr. said: “It was just spur of the moment. Aside from that, I thought we did a really good job defensively tonight. I think that’s what won us the game. We played defense.”. .Smith said he’s come a long ways, individually, with his defense. “That’s been one of my main things, especially towards the end of the season – just becoming a better defender,” Smith said. “And I think I’ve been making strides with that. My teammates believe I have, my coaches put time in with me. They believe I’ve gotten better at it, so I’m just going to keep working and eventually become a better defender.” . .This was the 26th time this season the Mavs have had at least six players score 10 or more points in the same game, and the first time since they played Charlotte on Mar. 24. . .Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who was the offensive coordinator for Dallas when the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title, was obviously disappointed in his team’s showing. “That was a bad loss,” Stotts said. “Hats off to Dallas. They played hard. A lot of their guys came in and were effective. We didn’t do things defensively, particularly in the first half. We didn’t play with the urgency defensively to have an impact. Obviously we didn’t shoot the ball, but I think that is a mindset as well. No excuses. We didn’t play well and we need to play better.”

Trail Blazers

All Stats

PLAYER MIN FG 3PT FT OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF +/- PTS
E. Turner, SF 25 1-3 0-1 2-2 0 2 2 2 0 0 0 4 -4 4
A. Aminu, PF 32 4-13 2-10 0-0 0 6 6 2 1 0 0 1 1 10
J. Nurkic, C 27 7-8 0-0 1-2 2 11 13 1 0 1 5 4 1 15
C. McCollum, SG 37 7-18 0-5 2-3 0 4 4 8 1 0 3 2 -8 16
D. Lillard, PG 35 6-20 2-10 15-15 1 4 5 8 2 1 0 2 -4 29
P. Connaughton 18 3-4 2-3 0-0 1 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 -4 8
Z. Collins 23 4-9 0-4 0-0 1 6 7 1 0 0 1 1 -8 8
M. Leonard 13 3-6 0-3 0-0 0 4 4 1 1 0 2 3 -2 6
S. Napier 24 4-5 4-4 1-2 0 1 1 4 1 0 2 2 0 13
C. Swanigan 2 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 1 -2 0
W. Baldwin IV 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
J. Layman 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
G. Papagiannis 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
E. Davis 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
M. Harkless 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
C. Wilcox 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TEAM   39-87 10-40 21-24 5 41 46 28 6 2 13 20   109
    44.8% 25.0%                      

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Mavericks

All Stats

PLAYER MIN FG 3PT FT OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF +/- PTS
H. Barnes, SF 33 5-14 1-5 4-4 0 3 3 0 0 0 3 0 2 15
D. Nowitzki, PF 24 5-14 3-10 1-2 0 4 4 1 1 1 0 1 3 14
D. Powell, C 18 5-8 2-4 0-0 2 4 6 1 1 0 0 4 4 12
J. Barea, SG 20 6-9 3-4 0-0 0 2 2 5 1 0 1 1 -1 15
D. Smith Jr., PG 28 8-16 2-5 0-0 1 7 8 8 2 0 1 1 -3 18
M. Kleber 31 3-5 2-3 1-2 2 6 8 1 0 2 0 3 1 9
A. Harrison 25 1-8 1-5 3-4 0 4 4 4 3 0 1 3 5 6
Y. Ferrell 18 6-9 3-5 0-0 0 1 1 3 0 0 0 0 9 15
S. Mejri 21 1-2 0-0 3-6 3 2 5 2 0 1 1 3 4 5
D. McDermott 14 2-7 0-3 2-2 0 2 2 2 0 1 0 0 4 6
K. Collinsworth 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
J. Motley 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
N. Noel 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
S. Curry 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
D. Finney-Smith 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
J. Jones 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
W. Matthews 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TEAM   42-92 17-44 14-20 8 35 43 27 8 5 7 16   115
    45.7% 38.6%                      

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DALLAS – Baylor coach Scott Drew handed out extra kudos to the Dallas Mavericks for reaching out last summer and taking a chance on Bears center Johnathan Motley.

Drew coached Motley during his four years with the Bears and saw him blossom from being a slender kid to a powerful manchild who won the prestigious Karl Malone Award last season for being the best power forward in college basketball. For Motley, winning that coveted award automatically placed him very high on the draft boards of a lot of NBA front office personnel.

And that includes the draft board owned by the Mavs and ran by the team’s general manager, Donnie Nelson.

“The NBA Draft analysts, there wasn’t anybody that had him going below 45,” Drew said of Motley. “Donnie Nelson and the Mavs do such a great job of getting out and watching practices and evaluating players.”

But the 2017 draft unfolded and Motley surprisingly wasn’t among the five dozen players drafted. Then came the tears, and the explanations about why a player with so much potential, a player who was first-team all-Big 12 and a consensus second-team All-American did not get drafted by one of the 30 NBA teams.

“For people that don’t know why Motley didn’t drafted, it’s because in our last game of the year we played South Carolina and in the first half he tore his meniscus,” Drew said. “And he didn’t say anything to us coaches because he knew if he did — or say anything to our trainers — he wouldn’t be able to play.

“So he played the whole game, and then after the game he told the trainer, and the MRIs revealed that he had torn it, so he had surgery. And then when he got done with rehab he went to the (NBA) workouts and obviously he wasn’t in as good a shape as he needed to probably be, but again he was trying to go to the workouts and trying to play. I’m sure he did well at some, but he wasn’t in great shape, so he’d wear out at some of them.”

In the end, Motley’s stock plummeted. But the Mavs were still sold on the 6-10, 230-pounder and wound up signing him to the NBA’s newly-designed two-way contract.

The way Drew explains it, the Mavs were able to acquire Motley in a steal.

“That injury red-flagged him from several NBA teams,” Drew said. “So you get somebody that everybody thought was a late first (round pick) to an early second (round pick) to not getting drafted, and you’ve got to credit to Donnie and his staff for picking up on the fact that this will be a great guy to sign to a two-way deal.

“And they did, and we were happy because that means we get to keep him close to Baylor and we know what a great organization the Mavs are.”

In 34 games for Baylor last season, Motley averaged 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds and shot 52.1 percent from the field. Individually, it was a banner year for Motley.

“As far as production, there weren’t many people that produced more than he did,” Drew said. “You’re talking about a first-round draft pick who went undrafted that the Mavericks were able to get on a two-way deal.

“So it was a great move by the Mavs and I think it’ll set up J-Mot’s professional career because they’ve done a great job in making sure that he didn’t do too much too early on his knee and they really protected him. They’re looking at the big picture instead of just this year, which you respect and appreciate.”

Drew describes Motley was a late bloomer of sorts. But by the time his body weight increased from a scrawny 205 pounds when he arrived at Baylor to a robust 240 pounds when he left, Motley was ready to take on all comers in the paint.

“He’s always been somebody that had a feel for the game, had a great skill set, but he was always overshadowed,” Drew said. “His AAU team, he was the fourth or fifth highest ranked prospect on that team. He wasn’t one of those Top 50 guys in the nation, Top 75 guys, and that chip on his shoulders has always allowed him to keep getting better, and because of that, physically his body transformed

“He red-shirted his first year and the great thing is he was able to learn and develop. He had Cory (Jefferson), he had Rico (Gathers), Taurean Prince, he had a lot of people that every day he could compete against at practice.”

Prince now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, Jefferson plays for the NBA G-League’s Texas Legends, and Gathers gave up basketball and now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.

In 34 games with the Legends this season, Motley averaged 22.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and shot 56.5 percent from the field in 32.5 minutes per contest. His dominance was on full display nearly every game.

And as Drew alluded to, the Mavs have brought Motley along slowly. The Houston North Shore High School product has played in just seven games for the Mavs and averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in seven minutes per contest while shooting 60 percent from the floor.

But Drew maintains that when the 2017 NBA Draft class is re-shuffled in a few years, Motley’s name will pop up on the board somewhere. And by then folks will be discussing the steal the Mavs acquired in Johnathan Motley.

“What I really like about him, besides his being productive, is how he’s productive,” Drew said. “He can put it on the floor, he can shoot it from the outside and he can post you up.

“As he becomes more consistent as a shooter, he’s really, really going to be hard to guard.”

Notes: The Mavs (23-54) will host the Portland Trail Blazers (48-29) on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. CT at American Airlines Center. The game will air locally on KTXA Channel 21 and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game can also be heard in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. . .The Mavs have an all-time record of 70-82 against Portland, including 46-31 at home. . .The Blazers are 2-0 against the Mavs this season and are looking to sweep the season series against Dallas for the first time since they were 3-0 against the Mavs in the 1998-’99 season, which was Dirk Nowitzki’s rookie NBA campaign. . .In the two previous games between the Mavs and Blazers this season, Portland has averaged 112 points, with 53 of those points coming from production by guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Lillard is averaging 30 points and converting 19-of-33 shots against the Mavs this season, while McCollum is averaging 23 points and making 20-of-37 shots. . .Lillard scored 31 points and distributed nine assists to lead the Blazers to a 117-108 victory over the Mavs in Portland on Jan. 20. McCollum contributed 26 points in that game, while the Mavs were paced by Wesley Matthews (26 points), Dirk Nowitzki (21 points) and Dennis Smith Jr. (21 points). Then on Jan. 26 in Dallas, Lillard tallied 29 points and McCollum added 20 as the Blazers prevailed, 107-93. . .Tuesday’s game will serve as the opener of a back-to-back for the Mavs, who start a three-game road trip Wednesday in Orlando. . .The Blazers beat Memphis on Sunday, 113-98, and also clinched their fifth straight playoff berth earlier that day when Utah defeated Minnesota. . .The Blazers-Mavs game is the first of a four-game road trip for Portland. . .Mavs guard J.J. Barea will be back in action against Portland after sitting out the last four games for personal reasons. . .Mavs forward Jalen Jones will also be available to play against the Blazers after missing last Friday’s game against Minnesota. At the time, the Mavs moved Jones down to the NBA G League so he could play for the Texas Legends in Friday’s playoff game against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Jones contributed 18 points in 38 minutes in that game, which the Legends lost, 107-100. . .On a footnote from Sunday’s 98-87 loss in Cleveland, forward Dirk Nowitzki discussed how the Mavs held Cavs forward LeBron James to just 16 points on 5-of-21 shooting. “I thought we tried to make it tough on him, but he’s obviously one of the best players in the game if not the best player in the game,” Nowitzki said. “You look up and he’s got a triple-double. He’s affecting the game, even though he wasn’t shooting the ball really well.”

Injury updates

Seth Curry (left leg surgery) – out
Wesley Matthews (right proximal fibula fracture) – out
Salah Mejri (right knee contusion) – questionable
Dirk Nowitzki (left knee impingement) – questionable
Dwight Powell (left knee bursitis) – questionable