DALLAS — Although it’s just a small sample size during his rookie season, first-year floor general Dennis Smith Jr. has shown how much he relishes being in the big-time moment for the Dallas Mavericks during the last four games.
Sparking a four-game winning streak, Smith has been on the floor in each of those contests as the Mavericks (13-25) secured a victory late in the fourth quarter. He’s also stepped up his play when the Mavericks needed him most, including scoring the team’s final 11 points Sunday to clinch a 116-113 victory in Oklahoma City. And according to the ninth overall selection in last June’s NBA Draft, more success is to come as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and the team’s veteran leaders entrust him with opportunities down the stretch of games.
“It’s all about just trusting each other at the end of games,” Smith said after scoring 19 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing six assists during Sunday’s win. “We’ve got a team that we like each other outside of basketball, so it’s not hard to do. It’s just been taking some time, but I think we’ve figured it out now, though.
“I just go out there and do what I do. The last four games have been close ones. I’ve been in the last four games, we won the last four games, so something is working.”
On the season, Smith is averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 30 games, shooting 39.6 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range. He’s also increased his production during the last four games, averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in that span while upping his playing time from 27.7 minutes an outing on the season to 28.9 during the winning streak. Still, despite seeing plenty of personal success during the Mavs’ recent victorious stretch, Smith says he’s just been eager to help contribute to a string of wins.
“I wouldn’t say it adds fuel to the fire. Like I told coach [Carlisle] the other day, I expect to have big games. You know, whenever I have bad games, that will motivate me even more. But coming out and having big games, I definitely want to repeat it. But I kind of expect it. … It’s about wanting the moment. If you want it, I wanted it, and I wanted to be in a position to shoot it at the end of the game,” Smith explained.
The 20-year-old has seen his fair share of historic moments throughout his rookie year, debuting with 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season opener on Oct. 18 to become the youngest player in NBA history to record a double-double with points and assists in his first game. He also recently recorded his first career triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists during the Mavs’ 128-120 win Friday in New Orleans, becoming the third-youngest player in league history to reach the feat and the youngest Mav ever to do so. However, it’s Smith’s recent late-game play that is earning the respect of Carlisle and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. That said, Smith figures to have the ball in his hands late once again moving forward.
“I mean, Dennis has been spectacular for us in crunch time, making plays and getting to the basket,” Nowitzki said following Sunday’s win. “He’s finding guys on the perimeter. … I mean, it always comes down to getting stops, getting rebounds and scoring on the other end, and (Sunday) we kind of did it by committee. I mean, [Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook] hit a huge three. [Smith] hit two big threes, and that gave us a nice little lead to close it out.”
“He was great (Sunday night). You know, he finished the game with a couple of big baskets and some big free throws,” Carlisle added while praising the rookie point guard. “Look, it was an up-and-down night. There were a lot of pick-and-rolls, and they were trapping him. He hasn’t seen that. He went through some situations, but he kept his energy up, he kept his head up and he kept attacking. He kept encouraging everybody in the huddles during timeouts, too, so it was just so much growth. I’m really happy for him.”
Note: The Mavericks will now return to their home floor on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Golden State leads the season series 2-0. The game will tip off at 7:30 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.
Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out