Despite rough start, Dennis Smith Jr. provided Mavs with what they’d missed during six-game absence with hip strain

DALLAS — While he admits that it took some time to get back into the flow after missing six games due to a left hip strain, rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. provided the Dallas Mavericks with exactly what they missed in his return Wednesday night during a 110-93 runaway victory over Detroit.

Scoring 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, Smith filled up the stat sheet with five rebounds and five assists to boot during Wednesday’s win. He also provided the Mavericks (9-23) with lockdown defense by picking up fullcourt, helping the team work out of an early nine-point deficit. And after helping the Mavs to end a three-game losing streak, Smith quickly earned the praise of head coach Rick Carlisle and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki following the win.

“It was bad, great, shaky and good,” Carlisle candidly said while grading Smith’s return. “Look, it’s going to be tough coming off of two weeks and not playing an NBA game. The beginning was a struggle, but I’ve got to say the way he helped us finish the first half was probably the difference of the game. So, he’s extremely important to us.”

“We needed that,” Nowitzki echoed. “We were missing some of the stuff that he brings, obviously. With his mindset of always attacking in the open court, he made some great plays at the rim early. That set a good tone for us.”

On the season, Smith is averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists in his 24 outings, giving the Mavericks consistency at the point guard position. He’s also shooting just 39.7 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from three-point range, showing that the 20-year-old still has plenty of room to grow. Still, after effectively returning from a lengthy layoff, Smith expects to improve on those numbers as his conditioning continuous to improve.

Perhaps more importantly, Smith hopes to utilize the lessons he learned during his six-game absence after watching from the sideline as the Mavericks competed without him. That said, Smith believes the best is yet to come during his rookie campaign as he learns when and where to attack.

“I was just coming out and trying to do what I do. My legs were heavy at first, and I had to get my second wind,” Smith explained while summing up his night. “Second quarter, we closed it out strong. I started pressuring the ball some more, and we picked up the intensity as a whole defensively. We hit some shots, and that’s probably what changed it.

“I feel good. I feel real good. It’s going to take some time, but really I feel real good today on my wind. Like I said, my legs were heavy at first, but as soon as I came back in I felt great,” he added. “You know, I learned a lot about how Yogi (Ferrell) could be effective in the game, and I can do some of the same things. J.J. (Barea) and Devin (Harris), it’s the same with them. And I learned some of the personnel, like Maxi (Kleber), [Dwight Powell] and Dirk. You know, it’s a different perspective whenever you just sit from the first quarter to the fourth and watch.”

Note: The Mavericks will now hit the road for a two-game trip, traveling to Miami for Friday’s matchup against the Heat. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

The Mavs return to their home floor on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center against the Detroit Pistons. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out

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