His Mavs were playing on the second night of a back-to-back against a team with a significant athletic advantage against the typical starting lineup. So Rick Carlisle took a chance on his young players, Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell, and the move paid off.

Before last night, Anderson and Powell had a combined one NBA start between them. Powell, acquired last season via trade with Boston, had never started an NBA game. A power forward by conventional standards, he started at center. Anderson, meanwhile, played both shooting guard and small forward, having also played some 4 in the last couple weeks. This is the time of year for teams hoping to make the playoffs when anything goes, and last night was a perfect example of what can happen when young guys take advantage of the opportunity to make an impact.

Powell scored a career-high 16 points, adding seven rebounds and a pair of steals. Anderson contributed 11 points, four boards, two assists, two blocks, and a steal. Both made high-energy plays throughout the game and certainly contributed to a vital Mavs win.

More than anything, though, the two players matched — and even surpassed — the Nuggets’ athleticism. The Mavs will admit they don’t have the most athletic roster in the NBA, so matching up with teams like Denver has been difficult this season, as those clubs have speed and explosiveness all across the roster, particularly in the frontcourt. Dallas has collectively played more of a ground-bound game this season, but inserting Anderson and Powell into the starting group injected some hops into the team.

Anderson stands only 6-foot-6, but he has a 6-foot-11-plus wingspan and last summer at the Combine flaunted a 43-inch max vertical — the fifth-highest on record at the Combine, according to DraftExpress. One could easily make the argument that wingspan and length matter more in today’s league than height, and here’s an example of how.

Will Barton thinks he has a decent look at a three-point shot, but Anderson’s length and anticipation skills not only put him in to contest the shot, but he actually blocks it.

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This was the second trey Anderson has swatted in his last three games, after blocking a Klay Thompson attempt Friday night at Golden State. There’s no easy way to count the number of three-point attempts which are blocked, but only 75 other players in the league have blocked multiple three-pointers this season, according to Basketball-Reference. Many of those who qualified are guards that play every game and have therefore contested hundreds of 3s this season. Anderson, meanwhile, hasn’t yet reached the 500-minute mark in 2015-16. There’s no telling how many he’ll be able to block once his workload increases.

He also rejected center Nikola Jokic on a point-blank layup attempt, once again displaying his length and anticipation skills, but adding in a tremendous vertical leap for good measure.

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Jokic is 6-foot-10 and one of the most athletic centers in the NBA. Anderson, 6-foot-6, casts his shot aside like it’s nothing. That’s a special play.

Anderson also finished with four dunks, becoming the first Mavs non-center to throw down four or more in a game since Shawn Marion in April 2010. Marquis Daniels is the only other Dallas wing since 2001 with at least four dunks in a game, according to Basketball-Reference. Anderson has practically unheard-of athleticism as a wing for this team.

Then there’s Powell, who stands 6-foot-11 with a 35-inch vertical leap. That’s an awfully solid combination for a big man in today’s league, as his size gives him the ability to play center while his quickness permits him to play power forward. Versatility is everything in this league.

The second-year big man works harder on his game than perhaps anyone else in the organization not named Dirk Nowitzki, although Powell often stays after practice even longer than the German. He’s worked to add a center’s game to his power forward skill set, and the results have been fruitful. He’s improved this season by leaps and bounds when it comes to finishing at and around the rim, and that was evident last night.

This is a pretty standard pick-and-roll play, but what sets it apart from what we’re used to seeing is the aggression with which Powell attacks the rim. He makes the catch, steps 1-2, and launches himself toward the rim.

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There aren’t many players in the league who can contest that shot. Powell got downhill quickly and attacked the rim with force. That’s a textbook finish in the pick-and-roll from the 24-year-old.

Powell also possesses a very high motor — that is, he plays hard and has a high in-game energy level. Combined with his athleticism, Powell finds himself in a position to make plays that probably no one else on the roster can. (Except, of course, for Anderson.) Take this example. Watch where Powell is on the floor as Wesley Matthews attempts the three-pointer.

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He’s almost 40 feet from the rim by the time Matthews makes the catch, steps back, and launches the shot. But no one on the Nuggets puts a body on the crashing Powell, and he throws down a fierce put-back dunk. This is a 6-foot-11 center covering all of that ground in practically no time at all.

Anderson’s two blocks saved the Mavericks at least two points defensively, and potentially five. Meanwhile, Powell’s put-back dunk gave the Mavs two points they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Little plays like that can make the difference between a win and a loss, and over the course of an 82-game season, more and more plays like those can really be worth something in the standings.

There’s much more to basketball than making cool highlight reel plays, of course. Anderson and Powell have spent all season working on fitting into the system, playing with confidence, and furthering their understanding of basketball at the NBA level. Carlisle has said throughout the season a young player’s biggest challenge is adjusting to the speed of the game and grasping the mental side of it. What Powell and Anderson both showed last night is they’re already not only prepared to meet the physical demands of this league, but that they exceed them. As they continue to develop into more well-rounded, savvy players, the future can only grow brighter.

As the season winds down, it will be interesting to see whether their roles expand, contract, or stay the same. Will they start again Wednesday night against New York? Will they continue playing 20-plus minutes? Carlisle hasn’t shied away from sticking to a rotation change that works, so we’ll just have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure, though, as we learned last night: Anderson and Powell will be ready, whatever the case may be.

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