DALLAS — Although he says he wasn’t motivated by his individual matchup with All-Star point guard John Wall, Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. may have played his most complete game of the season Tuesday night while leading his team to a signature road victory.
Scoring a career-high 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting, Smith grabbed eight boards and dished eight assists to boot while helping to boost the Mavericks (2-10) to a 113-99 victory over the Washington Wizards. In the process, the Mavs captured their first road win of the season and ended a six-game losing skid, extending their winning streak in the nation’s capital to nine victories in a row. The first-year floor general also committed just two turnovers in the win, engineering the Dallas offense nearly to perfection. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Smith stepped up his game when his team needed him most.
“Dennis Smith was a great basketball player (Tuesday night). He was great in all areas,” Carlisle said while praising the rookie point guard. “He demonstrated aggression, poise, smarts and leadership, and it’s great to see. He’s worked so hard and it’s obviously been frustrating at times, but to have it come together on the road in really a must-win game with where we’re at is really great to see. Now, he’s just got to duplicate it.”
Opening the game with an alley-oop finish off a lob pass from veteran swingman Wesley Matthews, the 19-year-old Smith was in attack mode from the opening tipoff. He then scored nine points and dished out four assists in the opening quarter, lifting the Mavericks to a 36-34 edge after leading by as many as nine in the first period.
Smith reemerged in the stat sheet during the second half, scoring 13 points, grabbing seven boards and handing out three assists in the final 24 minutes of play. And after seeing Smith more than hold his own against Wall, the youngest player on the roster earned the praise of his veteran teammates.
“From the get-go he was in attack mode,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said while praising Smith’s play. “From the jump he was putting pressure on the defense every time down, and he was trying to get in the paint to make something happen. It doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to shoot all the time, but he collapsed the defense, he found some guys on the perimeter for some good shots, and I thought he played a great floor game for us. It was much-needed. We need his energy, his explosiveness and quickness on the break, and he was fantastic for us.”
“It was huge,” leading scorer Harrison Barnes added. “For him to take the challenge (against Wall) — guarding him on the other end and attacking, running our offense and being aggressive — I thought that was huge. And he made big shots.”
Surrendering 23 points and 14 assists to Wall at the other end, Smith went score for score with one of the NBA’s elite point guards for 48 minutes. He also proved that he wasn’t intimidated by matching up with out of the league’s elite players at his position, coming of age while leading the Mavs to a win in a hostile venue on the road. But according to the cat-quick guard, he was simply doing his best to play within the Mavericks’ game plan. And despite his career night, Smith credited Carlisle’s instructions for the win.
“Nobody is going to intimidate me. It’s just playing basketball. John is a really great player and one of the best point guards in the league, but my focus was coming out and being as good as I can for our team,” Smith explained. “You know, we had a really good practice (on Monday), so regardless of who was over there I just tried to lock in for the Mavericks.
“I just know I came out and I did what I was supposed to do. Whatever coach [Carlisle] asked of me, I was trying to do that to the best of my abilities. And it paid off for us.”
Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out
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