Justin Anderson in general and the Dallas Mavericks in particular have been waiting for a night like Sunday night.
Ever since Anderson successfully teased the Mavericks with some very solid play during his rookie year late last season and throughout the playoffs, coach Rick Carlisle has been pining for more from the athletic guard/forward. But the next step in Anderson’s progression never came.
Until Sunday night.
In 23 minutes during Sunday’s 91-81 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Anderson contributed 14 points and eight rebounds, and was four of seven from the field. For comparison sake in the first 15 games before the contest against New Orleans, Anderson had 112 points and 62 rebounds, and was 42 of 115 from the field for 36.5 percent.
In other words, Anderson had nearly bottomed out. But he showed some new life against the Pelicans while the Mavericks snapped an eight-game losing streak.
"I thought Justin, by far, played his best game in two years with 23 minutes, big shots, always being in the right place and tough defense,’’ Carlisle said. "That is exactly what we need from him – no more, no less.
"He put himself in a really strong position to play well. I am really happy for him.’’
To get himself back on the right track, Anderson had to do some soul searching.
"I looked at myself in the mirror, put my hard hat on,’’ Anderson said. "I wanted to re-evaluate (my game).
"I talked to coach and asked him what he needs from me and he made it very clear and I went out and I did that (Sunday), and that’s what makes him a Hall of Fame coach. He knows exactly what to do to get the best out of his guys.’’
So much was expected of Anderson after the Mavericks finished 7-2 when he prospered once they inserted him into the starting lineup for the final nine games last season. The success by Anderson enabled the Mavericks to dig out of a deep hole and advance to the playoffs for the 15th time over the past 16 years.
Anderson continued an upward climb during the Mavericks’ five-game playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But with Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and J. J. Barea in and out of the lineup this season because of injuries, that magic Anderson displayed last year hasn’t been seen until the game against the Pelicans.
"I felt like I needed to do more internally,’’ Anderson said. "Human nature kind of says, ‘Oh Dirk’s out, D-Will’s out, J. J.’s out.’
"You just want to do everything you can to help your team, and sometimes that can hurt your team.’’
Anderson felt he had been pressing too hard. His sporadic play on the court bore that out.
"He has had his struggles, but he is figuring some things out,’’ Carlisle said. "For our role players playing without Dirk out there and without some of our better playmakers, these guys have a much tougher situation to have to deal with.
"The game is harder, it is just inherently harder. And so they have to be more perfect in their approach and their process.’’
With the Mavericks set to host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, Anderson just hopes his struggles are now behind him.