Here are my 5 takeaways from the Dallas Mavericks’ 114-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center:
1. ROOKIE BATTLE WINNER IS: Go ahead and admit it. You came to American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, or snuggled up in front of the TV, so you could see for yourself the rookie battle between the Mavs’ Luka Doncic and the Hawks’ Trae Young. After all, these two were traded for each other on draft day last June. And the winner was? Doncic played 35 minutes, scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out six assists, picked up a steal and blocked a shot and turned the ball over four time. He was 6-of-14 from the field, 2-of-6 from 3-point range, and was so aggressive that he went to the line 15 times – one more than the entire Atlanta team – and made 12 free throws. On the flip side, Young also played 35 minutes and also scored 24 points. In addition, he collected 10 assists, two steals and two turnovers, and was 11-of-20 from the field and also was 2-of-6 from 3-point territory. So the rookie battle winner is? You like apples, the next person likes oranges. Doncic’s team won the game.
2. BARNES THE LONG-RANGE SHOOTER: Harrison Barnes has been putting more pressure on defenses this season by stretching his offensive game to include an inordinate amount of shots from 3-point land. And as any good player knows, if you have an effective 3-point game in your arsenal that’s just one more weapon that can give defenses a migraine headache. Against the Hawks, Barnes was an impressive 5-of-8 from behind the 3-point arc. That came one game after he was 5-of-10 from downtown during Monday’s win over the Orlando Magic. Barnes, in fact, has four games this season where he’s made at least five 3-pointers. The other two: He was 5-of-8 from beyond the 3-point line against Brooklyn on Nov. 21, and in the very next game on Nov. 24 against Boston he was 5-of-7 from downtown. By contrast, it took 77 games last season for Barnes to make at least five 3-pointers in four games. This season he’s already hit the five 3-point mark four times in just 22 games.
3. BAREA CONTINUES TO BLOSSOM: I know some of you look at J. J. Barea and wonder how does he do what he does on the basketball court? But the dude can flat-out ball. Generously listed as six feet tall – he’s not that tall – Barea is, pound-for-pound, one of the most physical players in the entire NBA. That’s part of why he’s been so successful. He knows how to stick his nose into situations and come out smelling like a rose. Against the Hawks, Barea poured in 18 points, was 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and also distributed three assists. And he only played 16 minutes. The 13-year veteran left the game for good with 9: 22 remaining when he sprained his left ankle after inadvertently stepping on a teammates’ foot while headed to the bench during a timeout. When the Mavs arrived at their team hotel in Phoenix in the wee hours of Thursday morning, Barea was seen walking with a noticeable limp.
4. FINNEY-SMITH SHINES IN THE BACKGROUND: You ever go to an office party and notice that one person who is off to himself and not bothering anyone. But when he’s at the office, he’s one of the co-workers who often shines without much fanfare. That’s Dorian Finney-Smith. His name rarely gets put in headlines, but Finney-Smith is one of the best defensive stoppers wearing a Mavs uniform. The man can effectively guard the small forward, power forward, point guard and shooting guard positions. He also can guard the center position — if pressed into it. Finney-Smith’s contributions often goes unnoticed by the average fan. But his teammates and coaches, they know. Opposing players and coaches also know. In the locker room after Wednesday’s game, Finney-Smith was – as usual – downplaying his defensive performance against the Hawks tho the media. His next door locker room neighbor, DeAndre Jordan, intervened and told him to stop being so humble.
5. PROTECT HOME COURT: Another home game, another home win. That’s the mantra these days for the Mavs. These guys just can’t lose at home for winning. The Mavs are an impressive 13-2 at home this season, including victories in their last 11 home games. That’s the longest home winning streak for the Mavs since they won 12 in a row at American Airlines Center from Dec. 29, 2007-Feb. 29, 2008. That’s also the same season the Mavs started the year with a 13-2 record on their home court. The win over the Hawks completed a three-game home stand sweep for the Mavs. Unfortunately for the Mavs, the NBA schedule maker didn’t give them any home stands this season that lasts longer than three games. And since you’re inquisitive, the Mavs’ two losses at home this season were to the Utah Jazz (113-104 on Oct. 28) and New York Knicks (118-106 on Nov. 2). The Mavs were just 9-32 at home last season. Could the success at home this season be a sign of bigger and better things down the road?