TULSA – Christian Wood likes to go around telling whoever he can that Dallas Mavericks rookie guard Jaden HardyHardy was one of the steals of the 2022 NBA Draft.

In his first game Wednesday night at the BOK Center – albeit it was a preseason game – against legitimate NBA talent, Hardy proved Wood’s words to be prophetic.

Scoring virtually at will and taking over the game in the clutch, Hardy scored 16 of the Mavs’ final 22 points and led them to a 98-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hardy finished with a game-high 21 points, and was 8-of-16 from the field, 4-of-9 from three-point range in just 24 minutes and was arguably the best player on the court.

“Once I get locked into a zone like that it’s hard to get me out of it,” Hardy said. “I’m just thinking that I’ve got it going, so I’m just thinking about making the right play. I’m just trying to make the right play, make the right read.”

Drafted on the second round, Hardy drilled four three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including one that put the Mavs ahead, 98-90, with 1:09 remaining in the preseason opener.

“I’ve been saying for a long time, Jaden Hardy is a steal,” Wood said. “His confidence and his energy has been so great, and I’m really proud to see that.”

HardyOn Hardy taking over the game, Wood said: “That’s what his does. Everybody has the ultimate confidence and believes in him, and as a young guy he has very high confidence and that’s what you love to see from a rookie.”

Wood certainly got no argument from coach Jason Kidd.

“It shows the work that (Hardy has) put in since summer league,” Kidd said. “He spends a lot of time in the gym.

“He’s coming back at night, he’s working — not just on the floor — but watching video. He wants to be good, he wants to play, he wants to participate, and again you can see that in tonight’s game.”

Wood, who joined the Mavs after a trade with the Houston Rockets this past summer, also was a huge factor as he finished with 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds in 25 minutes.

“I tried not to force things,” said Wood, who was 7-of-13 from the field. “This is all so new to me, so I’m just trying to figure out where to be offensively with these new guys.

“It took me awhile to get in rhythm, but once I found a rhythm thank God coach Kidd let me play a little bit more than I was supposed to today.”

Kidd said he liked a lot of things about Wednesday’s game, including the way Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Green ran the offense.

“I like the way we started the game,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to get the turnovers out in preseason. We had 24 of them, which is a lot for us.

“I like the way that group ended the game. As much as we practice – and they compete in practice — everybody is competing to win. I thought that group at the end did a really, really good job.”

WRIGHT HAD THE RIGHT STUFF: Point guard McKinley Wright IV had as close to an all-around perfect game as any player wouldhardy want.

McKinley tallied eight points – on 3-of-6 shooting – and also distributed a game-high 10 assists and finishing with no turnovers in 22 minutes.

“Coach had been harping all training camp and practice about how important it is to take care of the ball,” Wright said. “They brought me here and they want to see me get others involved and get in the paint and create for others, and I think that’s what I’m best at.

“It was easy for me tonight.  Credit to my teammates making shots. Without them I wouldn’t have had 10 assists.”

Wright especially credited rookie guard Jaden Hardy.

“I think he got five of my last assists,” Wright said. “You heard him out there. He said he’s here. He’s a special talent.

“I played against him in the (NBA) G League last year. He was with the Ignite and I was with Minnesota’s G League team. He’s a special talent, so shout out to Jaden. He played big-time out there tonight.”

MORE OR LESS PRESEASON GAMES: While the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing six games during preseason, the Mavs are only playing three.

Is there an advantage one way or the other?

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage,” coach Jason Kidd said. “It’s whatever the organization and coach wants to do. Oklahoma City, being a young team, I don’t think it’s anything wrong with playing six games to work on things before the season starts and to look at them in different combinations.

“We have a core group coming back from last season, and a couple of new faces. But three or six, you still got to play them.”

WoodKIDD DIDN’T CATCH HOME RUN NO. 62: On Monday, coach Jason Kidd talked about taking his coaching staff to Arlington to see the Texas Rangers battle the New York Yankees in a double-header. More to the point, Kidd was interested in catching historic home run No. 62, which Yankee slugger Aaron Judge drilled against the Rangers on Tuesday to become the single-season American League home run record holder.

Roger Maris set the AL home run record of 61 in 1961. So, was it Kidd or one of his staff members who caught historic home run ball No. 62?

“That guy caught it,” Kidd said. “Did you not see me behind him? I was behind him and he pushed me. He pushed me out of the way.”

Kidd, of course, was joking.

On the serious tip, Kidd said: “The value of that ball is expensive. But what great history to have it in Texas when you talk about Aaron Judge’s home run. To break a record that’s been up for a long time is pretty cool.”

BRIEFLY: Luka Doncic (rest), Maxi Kleber (rest), Tim Hardaway Jr. (rest), JaVale McGee (left ankle sprain) and Davis Bertans (right knee effusion) did not make the trip to Tulsa. “Some of those did work this morning at practice,” coach Jason Kidd said. “LD being one of those guys that got some work. It’s not an off day for those guys. A lot of good stuff this morning for those guys who didn’t make it, but then the walk-through was great. JaVale actually worked out. He twisted his ankle in practice (Monday), but he felt better today, so we gave him some work and then he’ll do some work tomorrow and hopefully he’ll be able to play on Friday.” The Mavs will host the Orlando Magic on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center before winding up preseason play on Oct. 14 at the Utah Jazz. Kidd said Doncic will certainly play against the Magic. . .The Mavs flew to Tulsa on Wednesday afternoon, went to the arena, and flew back to Dallas after the game. . .The Mavs will not practice on Thursday.

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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