Game 29: Mavs at Trail Blazers

Highlights: Mavs vs. Trail Blazers

Check out all the top plays from Wednesday's 96-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Mavs’ Wesley Matthews fulfilling vow to return a better player in ’16-17

DALLAS — After vowing to return to the court this season a better player than he was prior to tearing his left Achilles towards the end of the 2014-15 campaign, Dallas Mavericks swingman Wesley Matthews appears to be fulfilling that promise during his recent hot stretch.

Suffering his Achilles injury while still a member of the Portland Trail Blazers against the Mavericks (6-18) on March 5, 2015, Matthews set a goal of simply being ready for Opening Night after signing a reported four-year deal worth $70 million to come to Dallas last offseason. However, the seven-year veteran would admittedly struggle to regain his form during his first campaign with the Mavs, starting all 78 of his appearances while averaging 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists during the ’15-16 season. Matthews also connected on just 38.8 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range last season. But after strengthening his body this summer and refining his skills during the offseason, Matthews is now seeing his hard work pay off.

“I’m just playing basketball,” Matthews modestly said after producing his third straight game of at least 25 points during the Mavericks’ 112-92 home win Monday over Denver. “I’m just trying to be aggressive, pick my spots here and there, and my teammates are finding me. I’m just letting it go, playing confident and trusting the process and all the work put in this offseason.

“I’m just playing basketball and letting the offense come when it does,” he added. “I’m trying not to press. I think last year there were times when I was pressing, and I wanted it too bad. You know, I’m just playing basketball, and my teammates are finding me. And when we’re playing hard and playing the right way, the ball finds energy, and I’m trying to make sure I’m in the right spots and continuing to work on my game. And like I said, I’m trusting the process of the offseason and the stuff that I’m doing in the season.”

This season, the 30-year-old Matthews is averaging 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals in 23 games. He also ranks second on the team in scoring behind new addition Harrison Barnes, connecting on 39.6 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from behind the three-point arc. And according to point guard Deron Williams, Matthews is quickly beginning to regain the form that he displayed prior to suffering the injury.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 60 games for the Trail Blazers during the ’14-15 season before going down. He also shot 44.8 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from behind the three-point arc, leaving Portland as the franchise leader with 826 total three-pointers in five seasons. That said, Matthews has seemingly matched and exceeded that level of play with his recent production. And with Matthews playing at a high level, the Mavericks believe they can work their way out of a sluggish start to the season.

“He’s playing well,” Williams said of his backcourt mate. “You know, he’s shooting the ball well, and I think he’s getting back to pre-injury form. You know, it’s good to see. It’s definitely something we need, with him shooting the ball like this and getting to the basket. We all know what he’s capable of at the defensive end, but he’s definitely putting it together at the offensive end, and it’s great to see.”

Matthews has scored in double figures each game during the Mavericks’ last nine outings, stepping up his production with 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain) still on the mend. He’s also averaging 21.8 points per game and shooting 46.4 percent from the field during that span, making at least four three-pointers in each of his last six outings. Matthews has also continued to operate as the team’s top perimeter defender, taking on the nightly challenge of guarding the other team’s best scorer. For that reason Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says Matthews’ leadership in the locker room has been immeasurable this season.

“If you look at the numbers in the last 10 games, it’s pretty clear that he is (a better player),” Carlisle said while praising Matthews’ recent play. “He’s also leading our team really in the locker room, and he’s our energetic soul guy. He’s doing a lot of things right now for us, and it’s very difficult when you’re on a 6-18 team.

“I mean, Wes is a great guy for any young player to spend time with, because his mind is a computer when it comes to defense and offense, too. He’s a very smart player on offense, but defensively he’s one of the very best.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, hosting the Detroit Pistons. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. It 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:

Andrew Bogut (right knee injury) — out

Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain) — out

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Game 24: Mavs vs. Nuggets

Highlights: Mavs vs. Nuggets

Check out all the top plays from Monday night's 112-92 win over the Nuggets on Seats for Soldiers night!

After injury-riddled start to ’16-17 season, Mavs’ Deron Williams has emerged as team’s top playmaker

DALLAS — Despite seeing another of their top contributors go down with an injury during the first half of Monday’s 109-101 loss at home to Charlotte, the Dallas Mavericks are confident they can remain afloat until their health situation improves thanks to the recent play of point guard Deron Williams.

Already playing without 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain), 26-year-old guard Seth Curry (right knee sprain) and veteran J.J. Barea (left calf strain), the Mavericks (4-15) would then lose starting center Andrew Bogut late in the first quarter Monday night due to a right knee injury. The Mavs would then valiantly put up a fight and lead by as many as 11 before eventually collapsing in the fourth quarter as Bogut’s absence was felt inside and on the glass. But with Williams appearing to return to his elite form in the last three games after addressing his own injury concerns earlier in the season, the Mavs believe that they can bounce back Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings.

“It’s been tough with the injuries for us,” Williams admitted after Monday’s loss. “It seems like we get one guy back, and somebody else goes down. It’s definitely been tough. We’d like to be a lot more healthy than we are. We’d like to have Dirk out there, J.J., me for more games and Bogut for more games, but we can’t control certain things. So, we’ve just got to keep on trucking.”

Williams has definitely done his part to help the Mavericks keep trucking along, dishing out 28 combined assists in the last two games as the team has tried to build momentum at home. To the delight of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the three-time All-Star has also seemingly shaken off the left calf injury that forced him to miss eight outings during a nine-game stretch from Nov. 6 to Nov. 23.

Returning to the lineup during a 128-90 loss in Cleveland on Nov. 25, Williams has seen his minute restriction increase since clocking just 15 minutes during that game. Matching his season high by playing 37 minutes during Monday’s loss, Williams has recently stepped up with several injuries to the Mavericks’ core contributors. And according to Carlisle, the team’s success moving forward is directly tied to Williams’ health.

“Well, he’s doing a good job of distributing the ball, but I’m very encouraged by how he’s moving and how he’s playing,” Carlisle said of Williams’ recent play. “The shotmaking isn’t all there yet, but that’s coming. And it’s just a matter of continuing to work into the conditioning and rhythm aspect of it, but he’s playing very well. I like his effort on defense, too.”

Despite seeing his minute restriction extended to at least 30 minutes a game during the last three outings, Williams has yet to consistently find a shooting rhythm since battling his way back from the calf injury. Still, the veteran floor general has found a way to affect the game in other areas, emerging as the Mavs’ top playmaker and facilitator with a 7.2 assist-to-turnover ratio during that span.

Scoring 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting during a 97-87 loss in Charlotte last Thursday, Williams also dished out eight assists to keep his teammates involved. He followed that with a season-high 15 assists to go along with nine points during Saturday’s 107-82 victory over Chicago, making up for a 3-of-11 shooting night by committing only one turnover. Williams then continued to struggle finding the bottom of the net Monday with 15 points on just 6-of-18 shooting, dishing out 13 assists to just two giveaways as the shorthanded Mavs competed for the better part of 48 minutes before eventually falling. He’ll now attempt to rise to the occasion to help the banged-up Mavericks get back on track when they host the Kings (7-13) in the third outing of a four-game homestand Wednesday night.

“I mean, obviously, I think my teammates are doing a great job of getting open,” Williams explained. “We’re rolling to the basket a lot more, and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. When you have a roll presence, someone like Dwight [Powell] and Bogut the last couple of games, they’ve been rolling and finishing, and that opens up three-point shots. And of course, when you have assists your team has to make shots. So, hopefully I can help them out and make some shots myself, ’cause I haven’t been doing that.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, hosting the Sacramento Kings. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. It 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:

Andrew Bogut (right knee injury) — out

Seth Curry (right knee sprain) — out

Dirk Nowitzki (right Achilles strain) — out

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Mavs say key to an early-season turnaround is at defensive end

Practice Report: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki says he's feeling better and looks forward to playing tomorrow night against the Jazz.

DALLAS — Beginning the season playing two of the first three games minus their leading scorer from last year, the Dallas Mavericks hope that they can draw inspiration from the possible return of 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki to the lineup when they step back on the court Wednesday night in Utah.

Forced to miss time due to an illness, Nowitzki sat out the team’s home opener last Friday night against Houston for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Nowitzki was then a late scratch Sunday in Houston as the home-and-home series wrapped up, despite going through the team’s morning shootaround. And although the Mavericks (0-3) have gotten off to a sluggish start to the season, coach Rick Carlisle fully expects the team to turn things around once Nowitzki is back to 100 percent.

“We’re up against it right now in a lot of ways, but no one is backing down from their will to compete,” Carlisle confessed after the Mavs’ heartbreaking 93-92 loss Sunday in Houston. “We’ve just got to stay the course with this and just keep making small corrections. We’ve just got to find a way.”

Unable to make up for Nowitzki’s offensive production during their last two games, the Mavericks have compounded matters with lackluster defensive performances. That said, the Mavs know they must be better at the defensive end of the floor with or without Nowitzki in the lineup on Wednesday.

Sunday, the Mavericks trailed 63-53 at the end of the first half, entering the intermission allowing the Rockets to connect on 55.6 percent shooting through two quarters. Houston also held a 22-18 rebounding edge and 32-24 advantage in the paint, taking advantage of the Dallas defense in the interior. The Rockets then finished the game just slightly outshooting the Mavs, 42.5 percent to 38.1 percent, adding a 46-42 rebounding edge to overcome their 17 turnovers. But although the Mavs eventually made several successful adjustments in the second half, they also know that the start defensively put them in an uphill climb.

“They scored 63 in the first half, so we definitely did a lot better job in the second half of mixing it up and making things hard on them,” point guard Deron Williams admitted while critiquing the team’s first-half play.

He added: “We can’t start games like that. We can’t allow 63 points in a half and put ourselves in a position where we’re fighting an uphill battle all the time. It’s definitely great that we figured some things out, but we’ve got to turn around and apply that next game.”

Through three games, the Mavericks rank 23rd in the league while allowing 109.7 points per outing and 46.9 percent shooting. The Mavs are also tied for 22nd in the league in the rebounding department, pulling down 41.7 boards per game. Those numbers must change, according to swingman Wesley Matthews, if the team is going to get on track Wednesday night against a 1-2 Utah Jazz team. And after finding some success in the second half against the Rockets, the Mavericks will try to carry that momentum forward.

“You know, our margin for error is slim like most NBA teams,” Matthews explained. “We’re not the Golden State Warriors. We’re not the Cleveland Cavaliers. We’re not the [San Antonio Spurs], but we’re a (darn) good team. We’ve just got to minimize the stuff that we can control — end-of-quarter situations, over rotating, over helping. You know, continue to play scouting reports.”

Note: The Mavericks will now travel to Salt Lake City for Wednesday’s battle against the upstart Utah Jazz. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN.

The Mavs return to American Airlines Center on Friday night, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Devin Harris (right great toe sprain) — out

Dirk Nowitzki (illness) — questionable

The ‘Big D Will Burger’ does Dallas, Deron Williams proud

First Justin Anderson got to make his own burger. Dirk Nowitzki went next.

But now it’s Deron Williams’ turn up to bat, and he hit one out of the park with the Big D Will Burger.

A play both on his nickname and Dallas’ own moniker — Williams originally hails from The Colony — the burger will be available at American Airlines Center throughout the month of November.

Anderson and Nowitzki both incorporated elements from the area they grew up in their burgers, and Williams did the same with his: a 1/3 pound beef patty with smoked bacon, shaved romaine, tomato, chopped red onions, chipotle aioli, and Monterey Jack cheese are all stacked on a jalapeño cheddar brioche bun. It comes with black and tan onion rings, coated in a dark beer batter. Williams said the heat should appeal to Mavs fans with Texas roots.

“Most people are from Dallas, so they’re gonna see a taste of Texas right here,” he said. “I think it’s just a great mix of flavor.”

He’s right. It’s a really tasty burger. There’s a bit of a competition going on between Anderson and Williams to determine whose burger is better, and while I will happily stay out of it, I will offer this: AAC executive chef Mark Mabry placed the tomato by design directly on the bottom bun, beneath the patty, because he’s been told that’s the optimal place for it to be.

By whom, exactly? Anderson. As Mabry was explaining this, Williams interrupted: “Hold on, Justin?” Mabry nodded. “No, we gotta change that.”

A rivalry is born.

The burger does pack some serious flavor. The jalapeño and chipotle add a nice bit of heat, but not enough to overwhelm you. And who could say no to onion rings? Williams said he chose them to be different from Anderson and Nowitzki, as both paired their burgers with fries last season.

The Big D Will Burger with onion rings is yours for $12, which is a pretty great deal for the amount of food you get. In addition, the Mavs-themed can of Bud Light, set to debut at the arena tomorrow, is only $4 when ordered with the burger. You get a restaurant-quality burger at a restaurant-quality value. Not a bad deal at all.

Plus, you can go on Twitter after you’re done and let @DeronWilliams and @JusAnderson1 know which one you like better. Williams guaranteed his burger would outsell the second-year Mav’s, so the heat really is on, in more ways than one.

Five Mavs stats to keep an eye on in 2016-17

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Basketball season is finally here, everyone. Breathe it in. Enjoy it. We made it.

This Mavs team is so different from last season’s squad for a variety of reasons. Yes, there are plenty of new faces in the locker room, and yes, the team is much younger. But even the returning players are beginning this season under entirely different circumstances. Wesley Matthews, in particular, didn’t spend the summer recovering from a significant injury and ensuing surgery. Deron Williams went through an entire training camp and appears to be in good health once again. Although Devin Harris will be sidelined for tonight’s season opener, this team is in much better health today than it was one year ago.

That fact alone ought to be enough to get you excited for the season to start. The Mavs, though they are still figuring each other out, are going to have the opportunity to give it their best shot from the opening tip, without serious injury or distraction to derail their attempt to make the playoffs for the 16th time in 17 seasons.

But how will they get there? What are some of the numbers to keep an eye on this season — aside from the obvious — that could go a long way in showing how this 82-game marathon will go? Here are five stats you might not immediately think of, but ones to follow closely, as the season wears on that could very well tell the story of this 2016-17 campaign.

Harrison Barnes’ usage rate

The Mavs signed Harrison Barnes this summer with visions of him one day becoming the type of player who could help carry the load in the post-Nowitzki era. However, Barnes is fully capable of helping this team win games in the meantime, and as the 24-year-old continues to develop his individual skill set, his level of involvement in the offense is going to be important to follow.

Last season, Barnes had a 15.9 percent usage rate, meaning he “used” roughly one-sixth of the Warriors’ possessions while he was on the floor, either by taking a shot or free throw, or turning the ball over. A “balanced” usage rate is 20 percent, as there are five players on the floor. I expect his usage rate to be much closer to the 21.6 mark he posted in preseason, although that number could certainly rise as the season wears on and he becomes more comfortable in his new, expanded role within the offense.

But how those shots come almost matters more than how many he takes. Eventually the Mavs hope to develop his pick-and-roll ability, but in the meantime Barnes has demonstrated he can post up smaller players and excel as a spot-up shooter. He also showed flashes of explosiveness moving off the ball and in transition during the preseason. He’s got the tools, and you can see where the Mavs are going in developing Barnes’ game, and now it’s just time to see how the team and the young star take the approach to reaching the finish line.

Team assist percentage

Assist percentage, or the percent of team’s field goals made that someone else assisted, does not correlate directly to winning. For example, only five of the top-12 in the NBA in team assist rate made the playoffs last season. But the importance of the stat, at least as it relates to this Mavs team, is that the number is going to indicate what level of ball movement this team can generate on offense.

Last season the Mavs were 13th in the league with a 59.2 assist percentage and were fourth in the NBA in passes per game. The ball flew around, and much of that had to do with the team’s reliance on two-guard lineups, and also it was a natural consequence of giving Chandler Parsons more of a playmaking role.

This season, with Barnes replacing Parsons and mixing Seth Curry into the fold, the Mavericks will have a different cast of perimeter players. How, if at all, will that affect ball movement? Will the team continue to pass more than just about any other, or will possessions be more iso- or post-up-oriented, meaning there will be fewer passes? I think the Mavs’ goal is to keep the ball moving, and this is one way to measure how effective they are in doing so.

Bedgear Training Camp Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle looks ahead to tomorrow's season opener against Indiana.

Dirk Nowitzki’s minutes per game

We’ve heard it for years, but I think this could finally be the year that Dirk Nowitzki gets under 29 minutes per game, and that could be a very good thing both for him and the Mavericks. Last season, his MPG total jumped from 29.6 to 31.5, mostly out of necessity. The Mavs relied on Nowitzki to space the floor and keep the offense rolling. In a perfect world, however, the second unit would be able to maintain an advantage even without Nowitzki, and just a few extra minutes of rest for him could go a long way in keeping him fresh for the time of season when the team needs him at his best.

Barnes could see some minutes at backup 4, Quincy Acy will as well, and perhaps even Dwight Powell will split time between center and power forward. The Mavericks have more options at that spot than they’ve had in recent seasons — even Justin Anderson could play small-ball 4 at some point, in certain matchups — which means they have a greater chance of finding a combination that works which could afford Nowitzki just a little more time to rest in games. That could pay off in April.

Beneath only his minutes per game total, I’m also curious to see how many minutes, if any, he plays at center. A small-ball, 5-out offense with Nowitzki at center torched defenses last season, although the Mavs only went to it when they direly needed offense. If they could iron out a solid defensive unit around Dirk at the 5, the Mavericks could concoct one of the best offensive groups in the NBA for small stretches.

Deron Williams’ clutch field goal percentage

Of the 21 players in the NBA who scored at least 100 points in the clutch (last five minutes of the game when the score is within five either way), only Deron Williams shot at least 50 percent from the field. And he was the only one to shoot better than 50 percent from deep, too. He was so incredibly clutch for the Mavericks last season, and that was a huge reason why Dallas was the second-best clutch team in the league in 2015-16 (+16.0 net rating in a league-high 224 minutes), behind only Golden State.

How was he so successful? For starters, Williams is a veteran guy who knows how to create his own shot, and typically the Mavs would let other guys carry the load earlier in the game before relying on Williams and Nowitzki in the fourth. That was a very good formula for Dallas, and I wonder if it’s one we’ll see again in 2016-17. If Williams can continue his clutch heroics, not only will the Mavericks continue to win close games, but it will also mean defenses will have to focus in on Williams, potentially leaving more room for Nowitzki, Barnes, Matthews, or whoever else to find shots of their own.

Wesley Matthews’ 2-point percentage

Wesley Matthews looks like a totally different player this season, now more than one year removed from a serious Achilles injury which ended his 2014-15 campaign and severely limited his physical ability last offseason and early in the 2015-16 season. He was an absolute warrior in his first season as a Maverick, leading the team in minutes played despite recovering from one of the most significant injuries a player could ever suffer. However, the Achilles did appear to limit his ability off the dribble, and where the consequences of that injury reared their ugly head showed in Matthews’ 2-point percentage, which sank to a career-low 43.2 percent.

In 2014-15, Matthews shot a career-best 53.4 percent on 2-pointers. The year before, he was 49.0 percent, and 47.8 percent the year before that. I expect him to be much closer to those numbers this season than the 43.2 percent he recorded last season, and we’ve already begun to the extra pep in his step as he mixed in more drives to the basket in preseason games than we saw in 2015-16. That slight extra burst alone is enough to create more separation for drives, and his added explosiveness will lead to more dunks and fearless rim attacks. Matthews will shoot much better than the 50.0 percent inside 2 feet he shot last season, there’s no doubt about that. That will lead to more points for Matthews, and more points for the Mavericks.

There are way too many basketball stats for most of us to keep a close eye on, but those five stats are going to go a long way in telling the story of the 2016-17 Mavericks. The NBA season is a marathon, but if you follow these five numbers (and a few others), you’ll be able to see the finish line sooner than later.