Final: Jazz 113, Mavs 104
The scores from the last couple games have looked more like the basketball scores we’re accustomed to seeing. And while the Mavericks still allowed 110.8 points per 100 possessions against Utah, Dallas has climbed from 29th in defense to 25th over the course of the last two games, both of which have come against, in my opinion, top-five teams in the NBA. This game was virtually a carbon-copy of the Mavs/Raptors game on Friday, when an early and hot 18-2 start for Toronto proved too much for Dallas to overcome despite the game being competitive for almost the entire second half. Dallas actually led at points in the third quarter in this game, but the 13-4 Jazz start was simply too strong, especially in a game decided by just nine points. In these last two games, Dallas has played about 75-80 minutes of solid defense, but the opposition has been able to use quick, three- or four-minute bursts of scoring to create some early separation. All 48 minutes matter, but it’s still a first-quarter league.
DeAndre Jordan set a new career-high with nine assists tonight, coming up just short of his first-ever triple-double. Jordan has proven to be a capable passer from the elbow and top of the key, bounce-passing to cutters like Wesley Matthews or with hand-offs to Dennis Smith Jr. or Harrison Barnes. Defenses certainly aren’t building a gameplan around Jordan’s face-up game from 20 feet, but if he continues showing he can find players around him with sharp passes, his man could begin creeping out just a little further to try making those passes tougher. If he does, that means the driving alley is a bit wider for whoever he hands off the ball to on those curls. And if no one ever steps out on him, who knows? Maybe he’ll average three or four assists per game. He’s at 3.2 right now, and with Barnes back from injury, the starting lineup now features four players who can take those hand-offs and attack the basket off the dribble. Jordan isn’t a traditional fulcrum pivot man, but he’s proven he can make things happen with the pass.
Dennis Smith Jr. tied his career-high in scoring with 27 points, hitting 12 of 19 shots from the field and 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. This was one of the best shot-making games of Smith’s career, if not his very best. We’ve seen him get hot from beyond the arc a few times, but in this game he looked like a totally different player. He was able to attack the rim, not fearing Rudy Gobert’s exceptional length and rim protection, and finish from both sides. He even hit a couple mid-range jumpers. He didn’t, however, draw any free throw attempts, which is still one of the more puzzling things in the NBA — he attempts one free throw for every five field goal attempts on drives this season, per SportVU player tracking, a rate that ranks 30th out of 47 players who attempt at least four shots per game on drives. Smith drives the ball 13 times per game for his career and averages — yes, averages — 1.0 free throw attempt per game on plays resulting from a drive. That is insane.
Wesley Matthews has scored at least 20 points in each of the last four games, his longest streak of 20+ in his career. Matthews has shot nearly 38 percent from beyond the arc during this stretch, and better than 48 percent on 2-point shots. In fact, he was 12 of 18 on 2s before tonight’s game, when he was just 3 of 13. I don’t think anyone expects Matthews to lead the team in field goal attempts per game this season, and Rick Carlisle literally said after the game that he doesn’t care about how many shots specific players take. But if he’s going to take them, he might as well make them, and Matthews’ 52.9 effective field goal percentage during this run would be his best mark as a Maverick. He currently has a higher true shooting percentage than any Mavericks wing or guard not named Dorian.
The Mavs (2-3) will be back in action Monday night against the Spurs. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.