The Fast Break: Mavs at Trail Blazers

Final: Blazers 117, Mavs 108

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

The Mavs’ streak of clutch games extended to 14 tonight. Clutch is defined by a game when the score is within five points any time inside the final five minutes. Dallas has now played a league-leading 31 clutch games. For reference, Utah is 30th, having played only 16 such games, meaning Dallas has almost as many clutch contests in this streak alone as some teams have all season long. That’s a crazy stat.

Notebook

  • Blazers guard Damian Lillard got off to a sensational start tonight, hitting his first nine shots from the field. That led to a pretty interesting defensive adjustment by Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks. Starting toward the end of the second quarter, pretty much anytime Lillard would come off a ball-screen, the big man would lunge toward Lillard, blitzing him alongside his defender. With that strategy, the defense was able to keep the ball mostly out of Lillard’s hands, but the problem is Portland got off to such a red-hot start early in the game that the entire team seemed to develop a rhythm, especially from deep, and so the Blazers were able to make due even without Lillard’s influence in the fourth quarter. Still, the Mavs were able to pull off the double-teaming pretty well, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that coverage pop up every now and again in the future if an opposing point guard becomes hot.

  • Dennis Smith Jr. put together his third consecutive game with at least 20 points, and his 10th straight with at least 10 points. He had another strong second half and fourth quarter, reminiscent of what he was able to achieve in Denver the other night, although unfortunately the club was unable to win either game. However, the rookie is beginning to make a more noticeable, tangible impact on the game by consistently attacking the basket and forcing teams into uncomfortable situations. He can get up the floor and in a position to drive the lane extremely quickly, and that caught the Blazers off-balance several times tonight.

    Most notably, Smith used a momentary lapse in concentration by Lillard to dart up the floor while his opponent was arguing a whistle. By the time Lillard was able to realize what had happened, Smith was already delivering a crisp pass to Maxi Kleber the corner.

    He didn’t only use those powers for passing, though. Smith has now made at least three free throws in four straight games. That might not seem like a very impressive streak, but he’s a rookie, and first-year players rarely get the benefit of a steady whistle. Six of his 13 games with at least three free throws have all come in the last four weeks, which means he’s slowly beginning to figure out how to force contact. This play was a good example of that.

    Smith appears to be getting more comfortable changing speeds and probing the lane, waiting for small cracks in the defense to exploit. Once he’s in the teeth and has opponents off-balance, he’s much more likely to draw contact than he would be by simply straight-line driving at a set defender. We’re witnessing his development up-close.

  • Wesley Matthews had another 20-point game at Portland. In his five games at Moda Center since joining the Mavericks, Matthews has averaged 21 points per contest against his old team, shooting well above 40 percent on 3-pointers in those contests. It’s clear that he gets up for those showdowns, and it’s cool to see the crowd receive him warmly each time, too. He was beloved there for his defense and shooting, and so far as a Maverick he’s made sure to put both qualities on full display every time he’s gone back.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (15-31) will play the Washington Wizards (26-20) on Monday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs at Nuggets

    Final: Nuggets 105, Mavs 102

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Dennis Smith Jr. recorded his ninth consecutive double-digit scoring game. It’s the longest such streak by any Mavs rookie since Marquis Daniels did it 11 straight times late in the 2003-04 season. (Smith’s also had stretches of eight and seven games at different times this season.) One more game with 10+ points and Junior will become just the ninth rookie in franchise history with 10 straight with 10 or more. He has no chance to break the record, though: Jay Vincent scored in double-figures a whopping 65 straight times during the 1981-82 season. That truly is a Mavs record that might never be broken.

    Smith ended up with 25 points, his eighth game this season with 20-plus this season. With one more, he’ll tie Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson, who had nine apiece in 1994-95 and 1992-93, respectively. He was phenomenal, particularly in transition.

    The Mavericks trailed 99-83 late in the fourth quarter but used a 14-2 run to pull to within 101-97 with under two minutes to go. They eventually pulled to within one point with 10 seconds left. This team does not go down without a fight.

    Notebook

  • An injury to a reserve player typically doesn’t lead to a change in the starting lineup, but the Mavs have always done things a little differently. With J.J. Barea out with a left groin strain and Yogi Ferrell having started the last couple games, Dallas would have running short on playmakers off the bench if it stuck with the usual group. Rick Carlisle’s solution was to return back to the old starting lineup, replacing Ferrell with Maxi Kleber and reuniting the second-year guard with Devin Harris in the second unit. That put a little more responsibility on those guys’ shoulders, not only to replacing Barea’s scoring but also his playmaking to keep everyone involved. Devin Harris was able to hook up with Dwight Powell for an impressive dunk. (More on his scoring later.)

    Barea hopes to play Saturday against Portland, and fortunately the Mavericks have three days off until that game to get Barea up and running and treat any other aches and pains they have after a quick first half of the season. Three off days in between games will be their longest break in between games all season, and they won’t have another break this long (aside from the All-Star break) until March.

  • Devin Harris had one of his finest scoring nights of the season, pouring in 16 points in 18 minutes off the bench. It was one point off his season-high mark of 17, set on Dec. 29 against New Orleans. Harris has quietly been shooting the ball brilliantly as of late, after an inauspicious 19-game run from early November through mid-December during which he shot just 30.6 percent from beyond the arc. In the 13 games since, he’s shooting above 42 percent from 3-point land. No matter what he himself shoots, the team tends to play better when he’s on the floor than when he’s off. But when he’s shooting as well as he has been, understandably it makes him that much more valuable. Dallas is 6-7 in those 13 games and just 9-23 in the 32 preceding contests.

  • Maxi Kleber had an opportunity at extended minutes tonight for the first time since being replaced in the starting lineup, and he was able to take advantage of that time by making a couple nice highlight plays in the second half. First, he had a pretty emphatic block.

    The cool thing about this play is that, just seconds earlier, he committed a turnover. Instead of compounding one mistake with another by not getting back on defense, Kleber hustled back and made a play. A couple minutes later, karma rewarded him with his efforts by giving him a chance to throw down a vicious alley-oop dunk.

    More of that, big fella!

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (15-30) will play the Portland Trail Blazers (22-21 on Saturday at the Moda Center at 9 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Lakers

    Final: Lakers 107, Mavs 101

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Dallas outscored Los Angeles 32-15 in the second quarter. The +17 point differential was the team’s third-best quarter of the season, behind a +18 fourth quarter against Houston on Oct. 21 and a +19 third quarter at Memphis on Nov. 22.

    With a pair of free throws in the first half, Dirk Nowitzki moved out of a tie with Jerry West and into sixth place on the all-time free throws made list (7,162).

    Notebook

  • Dennis Smith Jr. put on a show in the first half, finishing a few highlight reel plays like the ones below.

    Smith was aggressive from the get-go, hitting three treys and attacking the lane, too, especially in transition. It’s a treat to watch him when he’s playing like that. It should be no surprise that he played so aggressively considering who lined up across from him: Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft. Smith loves the competitive aspect of facing off against fellow rookies from this illustrious class. Like Smith, Ball made a few really nice plays too. This batch of rookies has the chance to really be special. Smith recorded his seventh 20-point game.

  • The Lakers did a really good job of switching and building a wall in the second half to keep the Mavs out of the paint, which led to a ton of Mavs 3-point attempts. Unfortunately Dallas couldn’t consistently take advantage of those open looks, but still managed to mount a comeback in the final minute and force overtime. Down the stretch in regulation, the Mavs’ final two buckets — scored by Smith and Harrison Barnes — came at the rim.

    Those two have proven they can get in the paint when they’re aggressive enough. It was nice to see them able to create relatively easy shots in a very difficult situation. That’s the type of aggression Barnes (and Smith especially) must constantly play with in order to evolve into the type of closers they want to become.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (15-29) will play the Denver Nuggets (22-20) on Tuesday at the Pepsi Center at 8 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs at Hornets

    Final: Mavs 115, Hornets 111

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    The Mavericks scored 39 points in the second quarter, made possible by hot shooting and plenty of layups, but also by shooting a whopping 13 free throws. Dallas got into the bonus with more than seven minutes remaining in the frame and was able to stay aggressive and keep forcing more whistles. It was the team’s fifth 39-plus-point quarter this season; the Mavericks only had one such quarter all of last season, and only two during the 2015-16 campaign. They’re 5-0 in those five games this season.

    After a 1-18 start this season in clutch games (when the score is within five points inside the final five minutes of regulation or overtime), the Mavericks have won six out of nine such contests and are now 7-21 on the season. It’s been a nice turnaround.

    Notebook

  • The Mavericks were able to win a game that they were not supposed to win. Dallas played last night and flew two hours East, losing an hour in the process, to take on a hosting Hornets club that was coming off of four days’ rest. This had “schedule loss” written all over it, but the Mavs pulled it out anyway behind an unconscious Yogi Ferrell shooting performance and some unbelievable work down the stretch by Harrison Barnes. He scored 11 of 14 Mavs points upon checking back into the game midway through the fourth quarter (and 13 points overall in the final frame) on 5-of-5 shooting. He’s said he needs to improve as a closer, and tonight was a step in the right direction for him and for this team, against some pretty tough odds considering the fatigue difference.

  • Yogi Ferrell continues to shoot the lights out. He got the start tonight, replacing Maxi Kleber in the opening lineup, and Ferrell took advantage of the opportunity. He knocked down a season-high seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and is now 28 of 53 from beyond the arc in his last 12 games. Dallas was able to get him his typical dose of spot-up looks, and he also hit one or two off the bounce. But one of his niftiest buckets came off a lob pass from Dennis Smith Jr., reminiscent of a long through ball in soccer.

    No one picked up Ferrell as he meandered over to his spot, so Smith just lofted the ball his direction and it landed right in his shooting pocket. That was three of the easiest points the Mavericks scored in this game.

  • Sometimes when you’re tired and they’re not, you have to dig a little deeper to make things happen. The Mavericks picked up their activity on the defensive end, recording nine deflections and forcing the Hornets into an unusually high number of turnovers. Similar to Dallas, Charlotte has for years been one of the best teams at avoiding giveaways, but the Mavs were able to swipe a few. That led to some zany transition play, too, such as the time Salah Mejri led a fast break…

    …Or when Wesley Matthews singlehandedly stopped a fast break and almost accidentally managed to get the ball to Dennis Smith Jr. for a dunk.

    Dallas took the fight to the hosts on a night when the visiting club should have been suffering through some fatigue.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (15-28) will play the Los Angeles Lakers (13-27) on Saturday at American Airlines Center at 1 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Magic

    Final: Mavs 114, Magic 99

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    With the win, Rick Carlisle (708-548) moved past John MacLeod into sole possession of 17th place on the NBA’s all-time coaching victories list. Gene Shue ranks 16th with 784 wins.

    After surrendering 32+ points in the first quarter of each of the last four games, the Mavericks allowed just 19 Magic points in the opening frame tonight. It was the club’s best defensive performance in the first since giving up just 18 points at San Antonio on Dec. 18. Rick Carlisle stressed the importance of getting off to a good defensive start, and he got his wish tonight.

    Notebook

  • This was a game where the contributions of the many, not the few, combined to produce a high score. Five Mavericks scored 15+ points and three more added at least seven points, led by Dirk Nowitzki with his second 20-spot of the season. At this point, Nowitzki is in less of a featured scoring role and more of a supporting role alongside Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. For him to score 20 means the ball was moving around quite a bit, which it was. J.J. Barea tied his season-high assists mark with a dozen, and Smith racked up a few hockey assists with his drives eventually leading to Nowitzki Js. But Dirk was also able to exploit a size mismatch against Elfrid Payton early in the third quarter, which resulted in the Magic eventually sending double-teams his way, in turn leading to even more ball movement. The NBA is relentless.

    In addition, Yogi Ferrell had his highest-scoring game since Dec. 22, and Smith since Dec. 31. This was the kind of night where everyone got involved, and the Mavericks needed that: For much of this game they were shooting in the 30s and low-40s percentage-wise, but by night’s end they’d eclipsed 50 percent. A rising tide lifts all boats. When the ball keeps moving and a couple shots go in, suddenly the basket looks bigger to everyone.

  • Defense is complicated. It’s a team scheme — one team, one unit — but that unit consists of five individuals, and sometimes those individuals are able to make plays outside of the system that still help their team. A few days ago Rick Carlisle admitted teams have been “picking on” Dennis Smith Jr. lately, which he says has contributed to some of those sluggish defensive starts in the New Year. It takes rookies years to learn how to play NBA defense, and the learning curve is especially steep for point guards who played only one season of college ball. But in the meantime, he can make up for that with plain effort, simply playing harder than his opponent. He was able to do that a couple times tonight. First, he pressed up on Elfrid Payton and poked the ball off him and out of bounds, resulting in a Magic turnover.

    Then, he faced a size disadvantage in the post against Jonathon Simmons but once again (and twice) poked the ball away. Even better, he was able to recover in time to out-jump Magic center Bismack Biyombo in pursuit of the rebound.

    If Smith consistently gives that amount of effort, he has the chance to become a pretty disruptive effort because he’s also such an athlete. Those are small plays, but winning plays.

  • Josh McRoberts made his Mavs debut tonight, playing briefly in the second quarter. It’s been a long road back to health for the veteran, who’s dealt with a rash of injuries in the past couple seasons, so it was nice to see him get back to action. I would suspect in the coming weeks he might see more time as he builds stamina and works his way up to game speed.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (14-28) will play the Orlando Magic (15-23) on Wednesday at the Spectrum Center at 6 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Knicks

    Final: Knicks 100, Mavs 96

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    At one point trailing 90-77 in the fourth quarter, Dallas launched a 15-2 run to tie the game at 92 in the closing minutes. It’s the third straight game the Mavericks have recovered from a double-digit lead in the closing minutes to tie it up.

    Notebook

  • When you watch the Mavs’ infamous bench unit of J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Powell, probably the first thing you notice is the glaring lack of size. Barea and Ferrell are both listed at 6-foot and Harris at 6-foot-3, which means they certainly do give up a lot of height in the backcourt and on the wing. Many would presume that hurts the defense, although that group has surprisingly put up very good defensive numbers this season. But it’s easy to focus on the defensive problems while completely forgetting that the same mismatch exists on the other end. Harris gives up height to small forwards, but he makes up for it by blazing past those guys pretty regularly. Harris leads the team by scoring 25.1 percent of his points from the free throw line, and he draws a higher percentage of fouls while he plays than any other Maverick as well, per NBA Stats. The veteran guard still has wheels, and he’s able to burn past off-balance bigger players for layups and and-1s like it’s nothing. He’s also been the team’s best plus-minus guy for basically the entire season, dating back to late October. Considering the height disparity on almost a nightly basis, Harris remains very effective on both ends of the floor.

  • This has little to do with the game but everything to do with the Mavericks. Derek Harper’s No. 12 jersey was retired tonight and raised to the rafters, where it will live forever alongside Brad Davis’ No. 15 and Rolando Blackman’s No. 22. Harper ranks first all-time in franchise history in assists and steals, and is top-five in numerous other categories, including points and games played. He absolutely deserves the honor, and it was fitting that it took place against the New York Knicks, with whom Harper played in the 1994 NBA Finals. Congratulations on an amazing career, Harp!

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (13-28) will play the Orlando Magic (12-28) on Tuesday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Bulls

    Final: Bulls 127, Mavs 124

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    The Mavericks scored 35 points in the third quarter, which ties for their highest-scoring third quarter of the season. Dallas outscored Chicago 35-23 in the frame, and the +12 differential tied for the team’s second-best margin in the third quarter this season, behind only the 19-point difference in Memphis two months ago.

    Notebook

  • The Bulls have a pretty small starting lineup on the wings, essentially starting two shooting guards and zero small forwards. That left Harrison Barnes with a significant size advantage against his mark for most of the night, and Barnes aggressively attacked that early on. He scored 10 points in the first quarter, most of which came at or around the rim as he played bully ball against smaller players. He’s getting so good at using his body as a shield against guards, and that’s helped him improve as a finisher. His spin move has really come along, too, and he uses that really effectively against big men. Barnes scored 23 points on the night and has now dropped 20+ in six of his last 10 games after doing so just once in the 10 before that.

  • Kris Dunn was fantastic for the Bulls tonight. The second-year point guard scored 32 points, adding nine assists and four steals. He took over the game late for Chicago as the club pulled away in the final couple minutes. Dunn is in his second season, fresh off a rookie season in which he averaged just 3.8 points per game. But he’s upped it to 13.3 so far, and it’s going to climb some more after tonight. Not every point guard will make a massive leap in his second season the way Dunn has, but players at that position almost always improve in several tangible areas from year one to year two. That sort of development has to get you thinking about how Dennis Smith Jr. will improve in between now and next season, when Dunn and the Bulls make their next visit to Dallas. (To add to the story, Mavs assistant God Shammgod mentored Dunn during his years at Providence, and now he works closely with Smith.) Such is the nature of development in this league. Sometimes it takes several years, but sometimes it only takes one. And one year from today, I wonder how much better Smith will have become.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (13-27) will play the New York Knicks (18-20) on Sunday at American Airlines Center at 6 p.m. Central.