Playing for the first time in eight days, the Mavericks didn’t take long to answer the rest versus rust question.
They jumped on Memphis early and kept pouncing, especially defensively.
While throttling the Grizzlies 102-92 on Monday night at American Airlines Center, Dallas flashed a trait that it too rarely has shown this season for a team with supposedly upgraded talent: Dominance.
Led by big off-the-bench contributions by Tim Hardaway Jr. (29 points) and Jalen Brunson (19), the Mavericks never trailed and held a double-digit lead for the game’s final 42 minutes.
“I guess those eight days really helped,” said Hardaway, who shot 9-of-14, including 7-of-11 on 3-pointers. “Just staying locked in and making sure that we carried over what we did in practice this last week, make sure it carried over into the game.”
When Dallas jumped to a 43-23 advantage midway through the second quarter, it was only the fifth time this season that it had taken as much as a 20-point lead.
Conversely, last season’s Mavericks on 21 occasions led opponents by 20-or-more points.
On this night the Mavericks allowed only 36 first-half points. A Memphis team that leads the NBA in field goal percentage (46.5%) was held to 41% by the Mavericks.
To coach Rick Carlisle, the downsides were that Dallas got outscored 30-21 in the final quarter, and had forward Maxi Kleber leave with a left ankle sprain, although Carlisle said he is unsure of the injury’s severity.
“I thought it was one of our best defensive games of the year,” Carlisle said. “That was really great to see. I just thought we had a real presence from the beginning. The ending was not what we wanted. We want to close out games better than that.”
Carlisle said that he spoke to the team after the game about the mediocre finish. The Mavericks turn around Tuesday and host a Boston team that is 5-7 in February and is coming off a Sunday loss in New Orleans in which it led by 24 points.
“It was clear that our guys were anxious to get out on the floor and compete,” Carlisle said of the long layoff. “The work that we put into defense this week paid off tonight. But it’s all about being able to sustain. Boston is coming in here. They’re an angry team. We’ll get their best game.”
Dallas won Monday without Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out with lower-back stiffness. Carlisle said it’s an ailment Porzingis has had on-and-off this season.
The surprising part about this flare-up and game absence is that the Mavericks had not played since Feb. 14, with last week’s icy weather and loss of power and water through much of Texas causing the postponement of two games.
Porzingis has played in 17 of Dallas’ 29 games this season (59%), after playing in 57 of last season’s 75 regular-season games (76%). While grumbling on social media about Porzingis’ latest absence, fans also were quick to note the correlation of Dallas’ improved defense against the Grizzlies.
Porzingis’ 119.5 points-per-100 possessions allowed ranks eighth-worst among individual players league-wide, with Carlisle attributing this season’s slippage to 7-3 Porzingis’ lack of offseason work or training camp while rehabbing from right knee meniscus surgery.
Still, amid growing fan discontentment about Porzingis’ lack of durability, the reality is the Mavericks (14-15) are only 6-6 in games without him. They need a healthy and productive Porzingis to have any realistic chance of turning around this season.
Tuesday’s game against Boston brings a chance for Dallas to reach .500 for the first time since it fell to 8-8 after a Jan. 23 home loss to Houston — the start of a six-game losing streak.
During last week’s extended period with no games, the Mavericks turned much of their focus in practices to shoring a defense that brought the NBA’s fourth-worst rating (114.6%) into Monday’s game.
Brunson said a couple of last week’s practices were especially competitive and intense. “We didn’t know when we would be playing again,” he said. “We set our minds and kind of stayed together a little more.”
Carlisle says he doesn’t have an update on Kleber, was unable to speak to him after the game, Kleber had already left the training room. “I’m no doctor and I’m not going to speculate” about whether Kleber can play against Boston tomorrow.
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) February 23, 2021
The effort with evident early Monday, with Dallas outscoring the Grizzlies 20-0 in first-half fast-break points.
Josh Richardson scored 11 of his 17 points in the opening quarter, during which he also pulled down five rebounds.
This home stand, which started on Feb. 4, ends Tuesday night with a franchise-record-tying eighth straight game at American Airlines Center, thanks to the postponement of last Friday’s game at Houston.
The Mavericks are 5-2 thus far. Who would have thought they would be battling this late in the season just to reach .500?
“The guys tonight made it about us,” Carlisle said. “It wasn’t a bunch of individual stuff.”
As Hardaway said, maybe those eight days really helped.