Harrison Barnes beginning to relish role as Mavs’ go-to closer down stretch

DALLAS — Putting the Dallas Mavericks on his back Wednesday night and lifting them to a hard-fought 115-111 victory in Charlotte, versatile forward Harrison Barnes continued to show he’s able and more than willing to carry the team down the stretch of games.

Scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter, including a stretch of nine straight Dallas points at one point, Barnes finished a 9-of-13 shooting night with 25 points and 11 rebounds. He also lifted the Mavericks (15-28) to a second straight win to complete a difficult home-road back-to-back. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the 25-year-old Barnes once again showed why he’s taken the torch from 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki as the team’s No. 1 option late in games.

“[Barnes] closed the game. I mean, he was absolutely brilliant,” Carlisle proclaimed while praising the forward’s late-game execution. “He hit on a variety of shots — twos, threes, drives. And look, that’s what great players do. I was real proud of him. You know, he had a pretty good rhythm going all night, and we just needed to get the ball in his hands.

“He’s the guy that’s going to be that guy,” the coach added. “You know, he’s going to be involved in some kind of action. He’s either going to touch the ball, or he’s going to be a key screener and probably touch the ball. Look, he’s had a year and a half of this now. Last year was a good initiation for him on a team that had struggles, had injuries and a tough schedule early. He was really thrown into the fire early and learned a lot about what it’s all about. But don’t forget he’s a former starter on a championship team, and he was a great player in college. This shouldn’t surprise anybody.”

Last season, Barnes produced a career campaign after spending his first four years with the Golden State Warriors. He also came into his own after inking a reported four-year deal worth $94 million that summer during free agency.

With Nowitzki sidelined for 25 of the Mavericks’ first 30 games during the 2016-17 schedule due to a nagging right Achilles strain, Barnes averaged a team-high and career-best 19.2 points per game while connecting on 46.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc. He also clocked a career-high 35.5 minutes per outing, playing in the team’s first 79 games before being shut down for the remainder of the season. Barnes led the Mavs in scoring 37 times last season after doing so with Golden State just six times in 307 games, posting seven 30-point performances in ’16-17 after just one such outing during his first four years. He’s since picked up where left off at this season, averaging a team-high 18.8 points, career-best 6.7 rebounds and career-high 2.1 assists per game while suiting up in all of the Mavs’ 43 outings thus far. And as Wednesday night demonstrated, Nowitzki believes Barnes has emerged as the team’s top closer late in games.

“Well, that was already obvious for us last year. We run everything basically down the stretch through him,” Nowitzki said while praising Barnes’ late-game closing abilities.

“You know, down the stretch when we need a bucket, usually we put it in Harrison’s hands. And he was fantastic (Wednesday night),” Nowitzki added. “I mean, his three ball was on, his midrange and his post-up game. He was fantastic.”

Operating as the team’s closer has been a process for Barnes, going from a role player with the Warriors to the No. 1 option in Dallas. However, it’s a role Barnes now says he’s beginning to relish.

Barnes is averaging 2.3 points and ranks just 45th in the NBA in clutch situations this season, which measures the last five minutes of a game that’s decided by five points or less. He’s also shooting 49 percent from the field in those situations and 37.5 percent from three-point range, leading the Mavs to a 7-21 record under those circumstances. Still, as Wednesday night showed, Barnes is ready for the big moment when his team needs him most. And according to Barnes, he’s gradually progressed into a better closer for the Mavericks throughout this season.

“You know, I liked the matchup with (Frank) Kaminsky. I just tried to be aggressive and attack the rim,” Barnes said while summing up Wednesday night. “Once I saw a few shots drop, I was kind of in a rhythm after that. Coach [Carlisle] kept going to me, and I was able to convert.

“It’s been a journey,” Barnes candidly added. “I’ve fallen short in that capacity a lot more times than I’ve come through, so I definitely have an appreciation seeing both sides. But I’m just thankful, like I said, for the trust. I mean, to have teammates and coaches work with you, take the time, help you understand angles and help you understand which shots to get to. In those situations, you’re probably not going to get a layup, so that’s one thing I’ve had to do. But just figuring out how to get enough space and how to get a clean look, I think that’s the progression for me. I feel like I’ve improved at that this season.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers. The game will tip off at 1 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
Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) — out

Rookie Dennis Smith Jr.’s late-game execution has helped to spark Mavs’ four-game winning streak

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.

Injury updates:

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

Mavs will look to be better late in order to get back on track against Memphis

DALLAS — It was a signature road win at Memphis that sparked a surge earlier in the month of January for the Dallas Mavericks. Now, the Mavericks (30-15) hope another victory Tuesday night over the Southwest Division rival Grizzlies (31-12) will lead to the same surge up the standings as the scene shifts to American Airlines Center.

Following two tightly-contested losses last Friday at home against Chicago and on the road Sunday in New Orleans, the Mavericks now sit two games back of the Grizzlies in the race for the division crown. But, after drawing even in the season series last week, the Mavs will look to get back on track with a much-needed win on their home floor against a quality opponent.

Avenging a 114-105 defeat on the road back on Dec. 9, the Mavs scratched and clawed before outlasting the Grizzlies en route to a 103-95 victory last Monday. However, with the Grizzlies out for revenge as the two teams jockey for playoff positioning, the Mavs expect yet another dogfight Tuesday while trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.

“We’re a team that’s got to be persistent,” explained Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who enters Tuesday needing one win to become the 24th coach in league history to record 600 career victories. “You know, we’ve got to keep chipping away at the rock. It’s just little things over and over and over again. … By no means do we have it figured out, but we’ve got a team that’s relatively new to each other. And the only way we’re going to get better is to go through struggles, like (last Monday), and grow together.”

But, in order for the Mavs to avoid a third straight loss, they will admittedly have to be better down the stretch of games after failing to execute well late in their last two outings.

Down two with 28.6 seconds left against Chicago, the Mavericks would fail to secure a defensive stop with a rebound before the Bulls finished off a 102-98 win with clutch free throws in the final seconds. And after losing a 47-30 rebounding battle in that game, the Mavs hoped to make the prepare corrections entering Sunday’s matchup against former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.

“You know, we’ve just got to get a little bit better,” 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki admitted following the loss to the Bulls. “We’re not the most physical, athletic front line, so we’ve all got to get in there and get a couple (rebounds) and pick up a couple of those long ones here or there. I always think that when we keep the board game sort of close and keep it within range we give ourselves a chance to win. … You just can’t give a good team second and third cracks at it.”

However, despite holding their own against the Pelicans on the boards to lose a 40-38 rebounding battle, the Mavs’ inability to close the game well would prove to be their demise once again in a back-and-forth affair on Sunday.

Failing to hold on to a 102-99 lead with 3:54 remaining following Nowitzki’s late three-pointer in Sunday’s contest, the Mavericks would eventually fall to a 109-106 defeat to overshadow leading scorer Monta Ellis’ game-high 36 points on 16-of-27 shooting. And with better execution in the fourth quarter at the top of their to-do list following late-game struggles in their last two games, the Mavs will try to learn from their recent disappointments in time for Tuesday’s divisional matchup against the Grizzlies.

“You know, we can’t expect that type of performance every night from Monta. We’ve got to do it on the other end of the court defensively. I think that’s where it starts,” four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo confessed after Sunday’s loss. “It doesn’t start on the offensive end of the floor. It starts defensively, and we have to do a better job.

“You build. You learn from it. You watch film. And we have another one the next night, so we’re going to prepare for Memphis and get ready for them.”

Note: Returning to action at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night, the Mavericks will then play host to the Memphis Grizzlies. The season series is tied at 1-1. The game will air locally on TXA 21 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
No injuries to report at this time.