Final: Suns 102, Mavs 88

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

Dirk Nowitzki notched his third double-double of the season, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. It was his first since Dec. 29. On a night when many other Mavs unfortunately couldn’t get it going from the field, Nowitzki was his typical self: He shot 5 of 8 from the field and 3 of 5 from the 3-point line.


  • At this point, it’s pretty unavoidable to admit that the continued development of the young players, particularly Dennis Smith Jr., is extremely high on the priority list for the Mavs the rest of the season. That means this space is probably always going to be occupied by a few things Smith did well and some projects he’ll continue to work on as his rookie campaign carries on. Tonight, he got off to a slow start from the field but managed to shoot 40 percent for the game after a hot fourth quarter. More on his scoring later. It was his passing, though, that caught my eye the most. He makes plays that most young players simply can’t make. Smith clearly sees and understands the game at a very high level. Rick Carlisle said he’s spent more time watching film with Smith than any other rookie he’s ever coached, and that’s becoming pretty evident every time you watch him play. Not only does he feel where everyone is, but he’s beginning to be able to look off defenders like a quarterback does a safety before finding teammates. This is just good sports.

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    And this was very good, too. He draws every Suns defender within a one-mile radius and drops off a gentle pass to Dwight Powell.

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    The cherry on top came on a baseline out of bounds play late in the game as the Mavericks were in the middle of a run. Smith’s eyes were on Yogi Ferrell in the opposite corner before he received the ball from the official, and he was so confident in his vision that Smith released the pass before even Ferrell knew it was coming.

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  • Now to the scoring. It was his 16th straight game in double-digits, which is good. But it didn’t come easy. Defenses are beginning to really key in on Smith within the Mavs’ offense, sending extra help into the paint in an effort to keep him as far from the rim as possible. Suddenly, he’s facing a human wall every night. He’s able to pass his way around it, of course; he racks up assists with ease when he sucks in the defense. Smith’s outside shot has come and gone lately, as it does for most rookies in this league. That’s something he’s going to continue to smooth out in the years to come. In the meantime, he’s going to continue receiving a ton of defensive attention. He shot nine free throws in this game, his second-most in a contest all season. Considering the Suns led by 20+ points for much of this game, Smith’s aggression was encouraging. It would’ve been easy to avoid getting battered and bruised by giants given the nature of the game, but Smith didn’t back down from the challenge. That’s an intangible concept so I understand if you think it’s crazy talk, but that aggressive mindset is what helped launch the fourth-quarter comeback effort.

  • I lost track of how many times Maxi Kleber was switched against a smaller Suns player, often a guard. He held his own every time; I truly don’t believe a player scored on him in those situations, and there must have been half a dozen of those plays, if not more. Kleber is quick on his feet for such a strong guy, which allows him not only to keep up with faster players but also do so without fouling them with his body. That’s a really rare quality to find in a big man. He didn’t start tonight (Dwight Powell did) but whether or not Kleber’s a starter during his NBA career, he will always have a job if he can keep defending like he has lately.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (16-36) will play the Sacramento Kings (16-34) on Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena at 9 p.m. Central.

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