DALLAS – It took awhile for the Dallas Mavericks to get control of Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns. But once they did, there was no turning back.
Frustrated in their inability to beat Phoenix for over two seasons, the Mavs finally got a grip on the game late in the fourth quarter and went on to post a 104-94 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,596 at American Airlines Center.
The game marked the midway point of the season for the Mavs, who will enter the second half of the season Friday night in Minnesota with a 19-22 record. And with this below .500 record, the Mavs know they must step up their game in order to reach their appointed goal of advancing to the playoffs.
“We can be a lot better,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “I’m definitely not satisfied and happy with where we are right now – we want to be better — and that’s not a negative thing.
“That’s just real. We want to be better, we know we’re better. We dropped a couple of games this season, we’ve been in a lot of games, but we know we’re better than our record and we’ve got to start proving that, and it has to start showing.’’
Against the Suns, the Mavs attacked the basket all night to the point where they attempted a season-high 45 free throws while snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Suns. A 16-2 run turned a seven-point deficit into a 64-57 advantage for the Mavs midway through the third quarter, and they never trailed thereafter in raising their home record to 16-4.
“I thought all things considered we moved the ball well and ran through passes,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We were aggressive and that’s what got us to the line so much.”
Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 30 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals as he easily won his rookie matchup with DeAndre Ayton, who was the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Ayton had foul problems all night and finished with just six points and five rebounds.
Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes poured in 17 points on 3-of-11 shooting, and his basket with 2:06 left to put the Mavs ahead, 99-86.
“It was really big for us,” Carlisle said. “Harrison didn’t have a great shooting line to look at, but he was aggressive and made a couple of good shots down the stretch.
“He drove the ball very well early in the game and got guys good looks from three. I thought he played a really good game.”
The Mavs also got a solid performance from Maxi Kleber, who stepped into the starting lineup when Dennis Smith Jr. couldn’t play due to tightness in his back. Kleber finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
“His shot-blocking ability is a big unconventional,” Carlisle said. “But it’s one of the things that makes him unique.”
Doncic, the third pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, also showed that he’s a unique talent. In wrapping up his fourth 30-point game of the season, Doncic was 8-of-14 from the field, 4-of-9 from 3-point land and 10-of-16 from the charity stripe.
“For sure, we needed that win and we got it,” Doncic said. “We just got to get a few more like that.”
The game was special for Doncic, whose Slovenian national team coach – Igor Kokoskov – is the head coach of the Suns.
“I always love playing against friends, especially my coach,” Doncic said. “I like to say something to him.
“I know all the plays because we used the same plays, so I told him they aren’t going to get the shot because I know all the plays.”
Kokoskov and the Suns are 2-1 against the Mavs this season, and he’s noticed the progress his protégé has made.
“He’s very confident,” Kokoskov said of Doncic. “First of all, he’s a good player. He’s very versatile, he’s unselfish, a guy who’s playmaking for his teammates and is also capable of scoring, (and) I think his defense is getting better.
“(Playing defense) wasn’t his strength coming into the league. But he has to understand that a lot of teams are going to go at him, so I see a huge improvement ahead for him.”
In the meantime, the Mavs are hoping for some huge improvements during the remainder of this season.
“I liked the way we played tonight, but I’m not really into that stuff,” Carlisle said when asked to assess his team’s play in the first half of the season. “There are a lot of positive things with this team and I’m very optimistic about the next 41 games.”
NOTES: Dirk Nowitzki (illness) and Dennis Smith Jr. (back tightness) sat out Wednesday’s game. Asked which is most impressive to him, Nowitzki playing at the age of 40 or Nowitzki playing all 21 of his NBA seasons with one organization, coach Rick Carlisle said: “Both things are amazing milestones to me. This is my 11th year with him, so nothing like that really ever amazes me about him because he’s such a consistent worker and because he loves and respects the game so much. We just want to see him keep progressing, getting better, getting more comfortable, getting better rhythm.” At seven feet, Nowitzki changed the NBA game to the point where centers and power forwards went from nearly wrestling each other for position under the basket to where they’ve stepped out on the perimeter and are consistently tossing up 3-point shots. “When I got in (the NBA in 1998) there was still a lot of one-on-one basketball, a lot of pounding of two big guys really, and no (power forwards) could really shoot that much,” Nowitzki said. “It’s been incredible to watch NBA basketball over the last 20 years how it has evolved and how teams are basically all shooters out there. Some (centers) are even bringing the ball up, and it’s been fun to watch.”. .Wednesday’s game pitted two of the top three picks in last June’s NBA Draft in Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic. The Phoenix Suns used the No. 1 overall pick to select Ayton, and Doncic was picked third overall by Atlanta, who quickly traded his draft rights to the Mavs for the draft rights to Trae Young, who was drafted fifth overall. ”They’ve both been terrific,” Carlisle said. “It’s been good to watch. It’s a lot of responsibility that they’ve taken on with their respective teams, and they don’t shy away or dodge it, which is good to see.”