Game 20: Mavs vs. Thunder

GAME RECAP: Mavericks 97, Thunder 81

Dirk Nowitzki finishes with a season-high 19 points as the Mavericks get an upset victory over the Thunder, 97-81.

Game 14: Mavs at Thunder

Smith Jr. Alley-Oop Dunk

Wesley Matthews throws up the pass to Dennis Smith Jr. for the alley-oop jam

Dennis Smith Jr.’s raw athleticism helps Mavs keep pace with NBA’s new trend at point guard

DALLAS — After seeing newly-named MVP Russell Westbrook dominate the NBA en route to a record number of triple-doubles in a season, the Dallas Mavericks are hoping that a player with similar athletic ability can also take the league by storm next year.

This season, Westbrook averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson during the ’61–62 campaign to average a triple-double for an entire season. He also broke Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles in a single season with 42, lifting the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 33-9 record in those games. Westbrook’s dominance speaks to a growing trend in the league of athletic and explosive lead guards to welcome in a new era. That said, the Mavericks hope the selection of former North Carolina State freshman standout Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 9 pick in last week’s NBA Draft has a similar impact on their team next season.

“I believe it translates well,” the 19-year-old Smith proclaimed during his introductory press conference with the Dallas media last week. “Russell Westbrook is super athletic, and that’s a guy I watch a lot of. And he dominated this year. He had a great year, and I think that’s largely due to how athletic he is compared to other point guards. I believe I can be similar to that, in terms of above-average athleticism. … Russell Westbrook is just relentless. He attacks at every opportunity, and he competes every possession.”

Possessing a 48-inch vertical, Smith’s athleticism was well publicized after one season at the collegiate level. His ability to impact the game in a multitude of ways is also something that figures to elevate the play of the Mavericks after a 33-49 season.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. In the process, Smith earned Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after becoming the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play. The Mavs now hope Smith’s athleticism and do-it-all play translates to the next level. And according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, Smith’s pure athleticism should complement 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki at the offensive end.

“I couldn’t be more excited about adding Dennis Smith to the roster,” Nelson said. “He’s an electric young player with tons of potential. Obviously, he’s young and minutes are earned in this league, but his skillset is rare. I think he’ll be a terrific fit. He’s a pick-and-roll player with big-time athleticism and tons of potential. And I think with [Mavs coach Rick Carlisle] and specifically the system that we play, it’s a really, really good fit. This was the guy that we were after. And if we had drafted a lot higher, he was the guy that we had circled. A strange set of circumstances panned out, a surprise pick or two, and we got our guy. So, again, positionally it fits. Really, the big hole was at point guard. He fits in really well with our guys, our chemistry and where we’re going. We think he can be a nice building block in our retool. And with Dirk specifically, he and Dirk in the pick-and-roll is exciting to think about. So, we think it’s really good in the here and now. It gives us a building block to move forward with, and we are just excited.”

Smith played at Trinity Christian School and averaged 22.2 points per game as a junior before being named North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. However, after tearing his ACL, Smith was forced to miss his senior season in high school and rehab his way back onto the court. The Fayetteville, N.C., native then showed no signs of the injury during his only season in college, dazzling fans with explosive plays on a regular basis. But according to Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Smith won’t be able to rely on simply his athleticism in order to be effective in the league.

“Dennis is someone we’ve had our eye on since we started scouting this class,” Cuban explained. “Dennis is a money player. He’s here to produce, and the results will speak for themselves. You know, we can project, we can hope and we can talk about a lot of different things, but it’s all just talk until he walks out to the court. But the good news is, as you heard him say, he works hard, he prepares and he watches tape. There’s a lot of kids that will come in, and just because they’ve been so much better physically and athletically than everybody at the different levels they’ve competed at they don’t really take the cerebral approach. Knowing that Dennis likes to watch film, knowing that he likes to learn, I think that’s going to be the difference maker. … Like I said earlier, we can watch him athletically, but it’s how he approaches the game, it’s his cerebral approach to the game and his willingness and desire to learn that makes the difference between a guy with All-Star potential and somebody that actually reaches that potential. So, we’re hoping when he walks on the court, I’m not going to say who he compared himself to with a jump shot, but hopefully he has that kind of rookie year.”

Mavs are determined not to let disappointing loss to OKC affect them on road trip

DALLAS — Despite surrendering a 15-point lead and eventually falling to a 92-91 defeat Monday night against Oklahoma City, the Dallas Mavericks know they must quickly move on in order to preserve their playoff hopes during an upcoming five-game road trip.

Going scoreless during the final 3:30 of play while Oklahoma City finished Monday’s game on a 14-0 run, the Mavericks (31-42) seemingly watched helplessly as MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Thunder stole a victory on the road. The Mavs will now attempt to quickly make amends for that disappointing loss and a 1-3 homestand during the next five games on the road, beginning the difficult stretch Wednesday night in New Orleans. That said, the Mavericks know they can’t allow the bitter taste of Monday’s loss to linger if they’re going to find success away from home, hoping to crack a dent in their four-game deficit behind Portland for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

“We don’t have a choice. No one is going to feel bad for us. Maybe we need a little road, us-against-the-world mentality. It’s basketball, and you’ve got to love it,” Mavs swingman Wesley Mathews proclaimed after tying a team high with 15 points during the loss.

“I mean, we came out with the right attitude (on Monday) to start the game out,” he added. “They came out more aggressive in the third quarter. There were too many turnovers, and we still built the lead up. They got more physical, but we were there. It was our game, and they took it. We can’t do (anything) about it now. We’ve got to move on.”

Leading by as many as 15 in the first half during Monday’s defeat, the Mavericks took a 50-35 advantage into the midway mark. The Mavs then overcame a furious run by Westbrook and the Thunder in the third quarter to pull within one, taking a 69-57 lead into the fourth period after finishing the third on a 13-2 run.

However, after going ahead by 13 at 91-78 with 3:30 remaining following a three-pointer by undrafted rookie point guard Yogi Ferrell, the Mavericks would grow stagnant down the stretch. And with Mavs leading scorer Harrison Barnes struggling to just 10 pints during a 4-of-14 shooting night, the Dallas squad couldn’t avoid being outscored 35-22 in the final period as Westbrook tallied up 16 of his game-high 37 points in the last quarter.

“Well, you know, you’ve got to pick yourself up. That’s what this league is all about,” Barnes said after the loss. “You’ve got to move on to the next game. Obviously, I wasn’t great down the stretch (on Monday), and I’ll be better the next game. That’s the mentality that our team has to have.”

Traveling to New Orleans for Wednesday’s Southwest Division showdown against the rival Pelicans (31-43), the Mavericks will now attempt to replicate wins in two of the three matchups between the teams this season.

Despite All-Star MVP Anthony Davis’ game-high 36 points, the Mavs sprinted to a 91-81 home win over the Pelicans when the teams first squared off on Nov. 27. Davis’ 28 points and 16 rebounds then powered the Pelicans to a 111-104 home win on Dec. 26 as the scene shifted to New Orleans’ home floor. The Mavericks moved to 2-1 in the season series from there with a 96-83 win at home on Feb. 25, overshadowing Davis’ 39-point barrage. But if the Mavs are successfully going to seize the season series, it will take elevating their play on the road and not allowing Monday’s disappointing defeat to carry over.

“There’s not a lot we can take away from (Monday’s loss),” Barnes admitted. “We kind of had the lead and kind of blew it there. What got us that lead, we didn’t really do it down the stretch. So, I think that’s what really came back to bite us.”

Note: The Mavericks will now begin a five-game road trip Wednesday in New Orleans, taking on the Pelicans. Dallas leads the season series 2-1. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. That game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

The Mavs return to their home floor on April 7, welcoming in the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio leads the season series 2-1. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and 103.3 FM ESPN. That 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:

Seth Curry (left shoulder injury) — day-to-day

Game 73: Mavs vs. Thunder

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Game 46: Mavs at Thunder

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