Game 77: Mavs at Cavs

Smith Jr. Soars and Slams

Dennis Smith Jr. crosses and spins around Jose Calderon to soar and throw it down.

The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Timberwolves

Final: Timberwolves 93, Mavs 92

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

Tonight was Dirk Nowitzki’s 75th appearance in the 2017-18 campaign. He became the first player in NBA history to play at least 75 games in his 20th season or later, passing the mark shared by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish. It’s another testament to Dirk’s extraordinary longevity and willingness to put in extra work before and after practices that he’s been ready to play so many games at this age.

Notebook

  • It’s been a relatively quiet month or so for Dwight Powell after he went on a tear in the middle of February, but Powell had a very loud third quarter in this game. During one stretch that couldn’t have been much longer than two or three minutes, Powell stripped Karl-Anthony Towns in the post then blocked his shot, hit a corner 3-pointer, found a cutting Dorian Finney-Smith for a dunk, and grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in. Powell is at his best when he’s active and plays with energy, and tonight he had to bring as much of that as possible to hang with the incredibly talented Towns. Powell finished with six points, seven boards, and two assists in 21 minutes. Likewise, Maxi Kleber had a pep in his step in this one, swatting four shots and scoring 10 points, which matched his highest output in a game since December.

  • In a bit of a role reversal, Harrison Barnes was the one who benefited from a Dennis Smith Jr. pick during one play in the first half.

    Plays like this really put the defense in a precarious position. No point guard wants to switch onto a bigger player coming full speed off a screen, and even if he’s able to stop Barnes, Barnes can easily post him up and get a pretty good look. At the same time, switching a big onto Smith isn’t a great idea, either. What’s more, neither player is really used to defending pick-and-rolls from that particular position. We saw Cleveland do this a lot with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving while those two played together to create a little bit of chaos. I wonder how much more we’ll see things like this the rest of this season.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (23-53) will play the Cleveland Cavaliers (45-30) on Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena at 5 p.m. Central.

  • Game 76: Mavs vs. Timberwolves

    Kleber With The Huge Rejection

    Maxi Kleber gets up for the huge block on Jamal Crawford.

    The Fast Break: Mavs at Wolves

    Final: Wolves 97, Mavs 92

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    The Mavericks have now led at halftime in seven of their last eight games.

    Sixteen of the Wolves’ first 33 points of the game were second chance points, meaning they came after recovering an offensive rebound. Karl-Anthony Towns spearheaded the Wolves’ effort, helping them get off to a 33-27 lead. To the Mavs’ credit, though, they only allowed four such points the rest of the way and managed to get right back into the game. Rick Carlisle often talks about the precious nature of possessions, and that’s an example of what he means.

    Notebook

  • Antonius Cleveland had himself a game. Before tonight, he’d never played eight minutes in a game as a pro, yet in this one he earned every one of his 18 minutes. The rookie finished with three steals and two blocks, playing super-active defense against a tough opponent in Andrew Wiggins. Both of his blocks came against the young Wolves star, made possible by solid footwork and his exceptional length.

    If he can keep producing like this, especially against longer wings like Wiggins against whom Cleveland is needed most, the rook could certainly earn himself some more playing time moving forward.

  • Lately there’s been something about Harrison Barnes and third quarters. The forward has now scored 33 points total in the team’s last four third frames, nine of which came tonight. That quarter has caused the Mavs some problems at times this season, but Barnes had personally averaged 5.2 points per third before tonight’s game. Perhaps the club can play through him for the first few minutes after every half in an effort to establish some rhythm and keep things under control until the “death lineup” of three guards, Dirk, and Powell comes in.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (7-19) will play the San Antonio Spurs (19-8) on Tuesday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs at Wolves

    Final: Wolves 112, Mavs 99

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    The Mavs were on the second night of a back-to-back against a well-rested Wolves team playing at home, so it might not have been the easiest thing to push the pace all night. However, when Dallas was able to get up the floor, the club scored at a high clip. The Mavs scored 1.27 PPP when they got the ball across midcourt in three seconds or less, against just 0.73 PPP when they didn’t. 1.27 points per possession will win you an NBA title if you score that for an entire game. The problem, though: Dallas only got it across in three seconds or less 52 times, versus taking four seconds or more 45 times. Rick Carlisle has preached pace all season long and if you were watching the broadcast tonight you could probably hear him yell “PUSH! PACE! PUSH!” over and over and over again. The Mavs have got to continue pushing the tempo off of makes as well as misses. When they do, they are really, really tough to stop.

    Dennis Smith Jr. finished with an even plus-minus tonight, which is notable given the disparity in the final score. To be fair, he made up a lot of that with the team’s late push in the fourth quarter, but it’s not like the Mavs were throwing in the towel at that point in the game. Dallas was able to get to within 13 points with four minutes left in the game, which as we saw last night is still enough time to get back into it. This was one of his better games.

    Notebook

  • More on Smith. This might have been his best game as it relates to getting to the rim. One of the cardinal rules of defensive basketball is to stop the ball-handler in transition, but no one did that for the Wolves on the following play, so Smith just took it all the way himself.

    He’s also getting better at using crafty moves to create driving lanes. In the next play, he ball-faked Karl-Anthony Towns out of his way, who was the only guy standing between him and a dunk.

    Smith led the Mavericks with 15 rim attacks, one night after attacking 11 times against New Orleans. You love seeing that number in double-digits and hopefully as the season wears on he can keep it that high, or maybe even higher. There’s no doubt he’s got speed and explosiveness, but once he can begin mixing in more change-of-speed stuff, that could unlock another level. One thing he’s had to learn is that opposing NBA centers are also extremely athletic so they can block you if you’re running right at them. But, as a guard, if you can change speeds and directions en route to the rim, you can really take advantage of your speed advantage because they simply aren’t quick enough to adjust in time to get in position to contest the shot without fouling — or even at all.

  • Maxi Kleber is making a case to become a consistent rotation player. Kleber didn’t play last night but he scored 11 points the game before in L.A. and recorded four points, three rebounds, and two assists tonight in 22 minutes. As he continues to become adjusted to the speed of the NBA game, Kleber is beginning to show off his skill set, including nice touch in the post and some ball-handling ability on the perimeter. He’s a really talented player for a guy his size, with the ability to score from basically anywhere on the floor and solid floor vision. He’s the right kind of big man for this offense because he never lets the ball stick for too long. If he doesn’t have a good look right off the catch, he always reverses the ball to the guard on the opposite wing and goes to set a screen. It’s tough for big men in the high post or at the top of the arc to keep things moving so smoothly, but Kleber has an advanced feel for the game for a rookie because of his ample experience playing in Europe. I think as time goes on he’ll get more minutes, especially on second nights of back-to-backs, and hopefully he’ll continue proving himself in those opportunities.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (1-10) will play the Washington Wizards (4-4) on Tuesday at Capital One Arena at 6 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Wolves

    Final: Mavs 98, Wolves 87

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    The Mavericks scored 1.167 points per possession in the first half. The league-wide average always hovers somewhere around 1.03 PPP, so that means the Dallas offense was absolutely sizzling in the first two frames, en route to 56 points. It’s the second straight game the Mavs have scored at least that many points in the first act. The big catalyst today was free throw attempts — Dallas took 17 free throws as a team in the first two quarters, which is as many or more as they’d taken in their previous four games. When you can get that many attempts from the charity stripe, the points are going to come efficiently.

    Dirk Nowitzki enjoyed his third straight game with at least three 3-pointers. That’s tied for the second-longest streak of his NBA career, with his longest, four games, coming in November 2001. Even at age 38, Nowitzki is doing things he hasn’t done in some time. He also moved into ninth place all-time in minutes played, at 47,620.

    Notebook

  • The second quarter belonged to Dirk Nowitzki. The highlight reel below pretty much says it all, and his final shot approaching Steph Curry range sent the AAC into a frenzy.

    https://twitter.com/dallasmavs/status/820719923773210626

    Dirk has now had two pretty efficient scoring nights in a row, counting back to the Mavs’ win in Mexico City on Thursday night. Obviously the better Nowitzki plays, the better the Mavs’ chances are of winning.

  • Dirk dunked on Thursday night, and Wesley Matthews dunked today. It was his first slam of the 2016-17 season, and it was a good one — a two-hander against Karl-Anthony Towns after a baseline drive.

    Matthews might not dunk often, but he’s so much more explosive this season than he was last season, now more than a year removed from recovering from a ruptured Achilles. Maybe the dunks will start coming more often for him.

  • Harrison Barnes has been on an offensive tear lately, and while his numbers tonight might not have dazzled the same way they have in recent contests, it should be noted that in this game he was matched up almost exclusively Towns, one of the better defenders in the league. Barnes has tremendous strength for his size, but Towns is strong, too, so Barnes found it difficult at times to create separation at the rim. Still, he reached double-figures in scoring for the 40th straight game to begin his Mavericks career. He might not score 25 every night — yet — but he can still be counted on to give you some scoring every game.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (13-27) play the Chicago Bulls (20-21) on Tuesday at the United Center at 7 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs at Wolves

    Final: Wolves 101, Mavs 92

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Talk about swings of momentum in this game. The Wolves built a 21-point lead in the first half, thanks in large part to Karl-Anthony Towns’ red-hot start and the defense for forcing so many turnovers. Dallas gave it away six times in the opening frame, compared to just two Wolves blunders. But in the second quarter, the Mavs committed only four giveaways but forced seven. Every extra possession you can generate helps, and when you can stack two or three empty possessions in a row, then mix in a few buckets, suddenly a 21-point deficit becomes 14, then eight, then six, and then the opponent begins to feel a bit of doubt. Turnovers are game-changing plays, and the Mavs forced them in bunches tonight.

    The Wolves came into this game 28th in the NBA in fourth-quarter net rating, at -8.2 points per 100 possessions. Minnesota had lost 12 times this season when building a double-digit lead. Sometimes it takes younger teams some time to learn how to protect big leads and win games. The Mavs went through this earlier this season, particularly when Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams, the team’s closers last season, were both out with injury. Closing games is certainly a skill that must be developed over time.

    Notebook

  • The Mavs fell down 46-25 in this game, which put them behind the 8-ball rather early on. But a combination of defensive intensity and some hot shooting brought the Mavs to as close as 81-77 in the fourth quarter, but then the Wolves bounced back to reclaim a double-digit lead. On one hand, it was encouraging that the club showed the resolve to get back into a game like this one on the road, especially given the nature of the two most recent losses, when games got out of hand in the second half. On the other, however, the Mavs are in a situation where they’ve got to string together a few wins in order to remain within striking distance of the eighth seed in the West. Coming into tonight, Dallas was just four games out of the last spot, and you can bet Dirk Nowitzki & Co. would rather be competing in the postseason than watching from home. That’s been the goal for this team all season long, but if they want to achieve that goal, the wins have got to come. Dallas will secure those wins by playing more like they did beginning halfway through the second quarter — with spirit on the defensive end and in rhythm on offense.

  • Harrison Barnes had one of his finer performances as a Maverick, particularly in the middle quarters, which is something we’ve been saying a lot lately. The fifth-year pro scored 30 points in this one, but what stood out most about this outing was his brilliance from beyond the arc. Barnes hasn’t had gaudy 3-point numbers this season, although earlier in his career he was more than an able shooter from deep. Tonight he hit four long-range shots in five attempts. Lately, it seems like Barnes has been stepping into his 3-pointers with more decisiveness and confidence; there’s no hesitation. That can do wonders for a player’s shot. Rick Carlisle talks about stepping into shots with confidence all the time, and there’s definitely something to that. Combine his uptick in 3-point shooting numbers with his already-sound mid-range game, athleticism around the rim, and increasing free throw rate, and suddenly Barnes is looking like the type of guy who has the chance to become a big, big-time scorer in this league for some time.

  • Dirk Nowitzki exploded in the second quarter, hitting three consecutive 3-pointers toward the end of the frame to cap off a fierce Mavs comeback before the break. It was an evening of impressive offensive performances, but nothing quite can compare to watching the German catch fire from beyond the arc. Here’s the first of his three during that stretch.

    Tom Thibodeau’s Wolves play the “ice” defense, which forces pick-and-rolls toward the sideline and away from the middle of the floor. The solution against the scheme is to have the screener pop atop the arc and take the open jump shot. There’s no doubt Nowitzki can do that, of course. He finished the game with a season-high 26 points, his most in a game since dropping 40 in a win against the Blazers last March. It was also the first time he and Barnes both scored 20 in the same game this season. If these two can consistently be big-time producers for this team, the Mavs could turn it around.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (11-27) play the Phoenix Suns (12-26) on Thursday at Mexico City Arena at 9 p.m. Central.