NEW ORLEANS – The unfortunate set of circumstances surrounding the sprained left ankle injury Dennis Smith Jr. suffered Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets is that the rookie point guard was well on his way to engineering the best game of his NBA career.
Smith’s injury occurred with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter when he inadvertently stepped on the foot of Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. At that point, Smith had played just 23 minutes and had contributed 21 points, five assists and two blocks, and was 9-of-17 from the field and 2-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc.
Smith’s career-high point total is 27, which he secured during a Nov. 14 contest against the San Antonio Spurs. And the most field goals he’s made in a game (11) occurred in a Jan. 16 game against the Denver Nuggets.
Plus, the two blocks Smith picked up against the Nets tied his career high. In other words, the North Carolina State product was in the midst of one of those sterling all-around performances for the ages before he sustained the injury which sidelined him for the rest of the game.
“He was making stuff happen for us, especially when we were making stops,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “He was pushing the ball, he was attacking and he was getting in the lane and finishing over some of their big guys.
“That’s what he does for us. We need him to attack, we need him to make things easier for himself and his teammates, and he had a ballgame going. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game.”
Smith’s show-stopping performance against the Nets served as a solid bounce-back game for him after he committed a couple of crucial turnovers late during Friday’s game in Toronto, which the Mavs lost 122-115 in overtime. Meanwhile, Smith made it a point to admit that what happened against the Raptors was nothing more than an aberration and a valuable teaching tool, and what happened against the Nets showed he had already put that star-crossed experience north of the border in his rearview mirror.
“It just means I’m becoming an NBA player,” said Smith, who won’t play in Tuesday’s game in New Orleans. “They say that the biggest thing for me to learn is next play, or next game and next shot. That’s part of the learning process.
“I didn’t know why things were the way that they were (against the Raptors). But I’m going to do what I do — keep attacking.”
To a man, the Mavs know Smith’s learning process is on the up-tick – sans the injury.
“He’s a competitor, and as a competitor you have short-term memory in this league,” Nowitzki said after the 114-106 loss to the Nets. “He knows that (Friday) night, there’s nothing you can do about it.
“You’ve got to set the tone for us again as one of our leaders on the floor. I thought he had a ballgame going (against Brooklyn).”
Smith did have one of those memorable games in the making. Until the injury suddenly interrupted things.
As Smith lay on his stomach on the Barclays Center floor following that untimely contact with Dinwiddie’s foot, fellow Mavs rookie forward Jalen Jones couldn’t help but think of the worse-case scenario.
“I was actually kind of worried,” Jones said. “I thought he tweaked (the ankle) way worse than he did.
“It was a little panic attack for a minute. But I’m just glad he’s alright.”
Before the Mavs left their team hotel in New York on Sunday afternoon, Smith was still wearing the walking boot he was fitted for on Saturday. However, he was all cheerful and said he’s doing just fine.
“I was very relieved (the X-rays were negative) because I (have) missed time due to an injury, so that’s the last thing I want to have happen,” Smith said. “I want to finish the year out strong and I can’t do that if I’m hurt.”
This was not Smith’s first run-in with the injury bug. As he was making his NBA debut with the Mavs he suffered a left knee effusion opening night against Atlanta and missed the ensuing two games.
Smith also sustained a left hip strain and was sidelined for six games from Dec. 8-18. In addition, the mercurial playmaker sat out the Mar. 10 contest against Memphis with soreness in his left knee.
Yet, the way Smith crashed to the floor and didn’t immediately get up made his latest injury – at first glance – appear as though it would be something much more problematic.
“We probably dodged a bullet,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
The Mavs’ medical staff will obviously treat Smith’s injury with kid’s gloves, as they do all injuries. Carlisle said on Sunday that Smith will be out on Tuesday in New Orleans. Smith just remembers when he suffered a torn ACL in high school – forcing him to miss his senior season – how he was overly anxious to get back on the court.
The Mavs obviously won’t rush Smith back onto the court under any circumstances. Management knows he’s too valuable for what they’re trying to accomplish next season and beyond.
“I’m trusting their decision,” said Smith, referring to his playing status for the balance of this season. “Like I said, I don’t want to make anything worse.
“That’s how I messed my knee up (in high school). So I’m trusting them.”
Notes: The Mavs (22-48) conclude their four-game road trip Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT when they play the New Orleans Pelicans. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. It also can be heard in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. . .The Mavs are 1-2 on this road trip. They defeated the New York Knicks (110-97) last Tuesday before losing games to Toronto (122-115 in overtime) this past Friday and to Brooklyn (114-106) this past Saturday. . .Following the contest against the Pelicans, the Mavs fly back to Dallas where they’ll play a two-game home stand Thursday against Utah and Saturday against Charlotte. . .Rookie forward Jalen Jones, one of the Mavs’ two players armmed with a two-way contract, doubled his career-high when he poured in 16 points in Saturday’s game against the Nets. Jones knows he has to be ready to produce when his opportunity arises. “You just got to adjust to whatever is given to you,” said Jones, who also grabbed seven rebounds against the Nets. “I knew what came with a two-way (contract) – a lot of going up and down (from the G-League), up and down. You just got to be prepared and ready for the moment. You just got to go out there and just give it your all.” Forward Dirk Nowitzki was impressed with the performance by Jones. “He gave us a huge boost and I’m happy for him,” Nowitzki said. “He’s so quiet. He just comes in and works hard. It’s good to see young guys work hard and have their work pay off.”. . .Only nine of the Mavs’ 17 players participated in Saturday’s game against the Nets. And – save for the obvious injuries — that was purely by design. Injuries kept Salah Mejri (right hamstring strain), Seth Curry (left leg surgery) and Wesley Matthews (fractured right proximal fibula) out of the game. Harrison Barnes and J.J. Barea, meanwhile, simply rested after the Mavs played Friday night in Toronto. Elsewhere, Dorian Finney-Smith played against Toronto and sat out the game against the Nets due to injury recovery management. Nerlens Noel, in the meantime, dressed for the game against Brooklyn, but didn’t play because he also was under the injury recovery management protocol. In addition, Jameel Warney dressed for the Nets’ contest, but didn’t play because of a coach’s decision. Coach Rick Carlisle said Barnes and Finney-Smith will likely be available to play Tuesday against New Orleans, and added that “I’m sure” Noel will play against the Pelicans. As far as anyone else’s status for the Pelicans’ game, Carlisle said he’ll let that be known on Tuesday. . .Jameel Warney’s 10-day contract expires after the game against the Pelicans. Warney has appeared in three games and is averaging 5.7 points and three rebounds in nine minutes per contest, and is shooting a robust 58.3 percent from the field.