Final: Mavs 106, Clippers 98

  • It wasn’t the prettiest game, what with a combined 58 free throws and the two teams shooting 20 for 70 from beyond the arc, but the Mavericks will certainly take a win any way they can get one. Dallas snapped a four-game losing streak with its second win over the Clippers this season, grinding out a 106-98 victory on a night when defense carried the day. (More on that later.) Dennis Smith Jr.’s return to action (more on that, too) seemed to give everyone some extra juice, and the result was the team’s first win on the second night of a back-to-back this season — and its first victory without J.J. Barea in the lineup. The Mavs have slogged through a beast of a schedule for the last month and have now finally reached a home-heavy portion which will carry them through the All-Star break and into the beginning of March. This was the type of game that, for many reasons, could hopefully be less of a slump-buster out of the last month and more of a launching pad to spring them into the next one.

  • It didn’t take long for Smith to remind us what he’s able to bring to the lineup. He accounted for four fast break points in the first quarter, scoring two himself and racing down the floor a second time before handing it off to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk. Smith ended the game with 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists on modest 6-of-17 shooting, but a little rust is to be expected given he’d missed the team’s previous six games. More crucially, he was plus-9 and, despite committing four turnovers, seemed to steadily create offense for himself and for others.

    Rick Carlisle continued to sub Luka Doncic out of the lineup midway through the first and third quarters and bring him in with the second unit toward the ends of those frames, which gave Smith a solid 12-14 minutes to run the offense as the primary ball-handler, and he took full advantage of those opportunities. Especially now, without Barea for the remainder of the season, it’s going to be very important to make an effort to keep one of them on the floor at all times. Jalen Brunson filled in valiantly for Barea and Smith in their absences, and Devin Harris is still capable of creating a bit, but Doncic and Smith are clearly the two premier ball-handlers on this team. It was good to see them remain effective apart as well as together — and although their combined 11-of-32 shooting line would suggest otherwise, both finished with positive plus-minuses. The most important initiative going forward will be sharing and maintaining that steady positive impact throughout entire games.

  • DeAndre Jordan just might have played his most impactful game of the season. The big man finished with 13 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks, becoming the first Maverick to compile such a stat line since Dirk Nowitzki did so in 2002. What stood out more than the mere counting stats, though, was his activity, particularly on the defensive end.

    Perhaps the play of the game — both for its highlight-worthy finish and its significance relating to the outcome — came with just over two minutes to go, when Jordan tracked a driving Lou Williams and rejected his offering, then ran the floor and threw down a dunk off a long lob pass from Smith.

    That’s the good stuff. Jordan has every reason to play with a little more fire against his former team, and his numbers back that up: In three games against the Clips, he’s averaged 13.3 points, 20.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 64 percent shooting. Not bad, not bad.

  • With both Doncic and Smith struggling from the field, someone had to pick up the scoring, and Harrison Barnes answered the call. Barnes has been mired in an eight-game sub-40 shooting slump, but he snapped out of it quickly against L.A., scoring 20 points on 14 shots, including going 3 of 5 from the beyond the arc. He was also a team-best plus-15 in 34 minutes. While his overall field goal percentage has been down for a while, his 3-point shooting is still toward the top of the league — he’s connected on 39.6 percent of his 6.5 long-range attempts per game, placing him among the most accurate high-volume 3-point shooters in the league. Against the Clippers, though, he was able to mix in some mid-range and drive game, too.

    Barnes’ best play of the game also involved Jordan, coincidentally, when he found the big man with a nice bounce pass for a jam.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (21-26) will return home for a game against the Pistons on Friday. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

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