In his first start for the Dallas Mavericks, Nerlens Noel didn’t disappoint.
Acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 23, Noel was all over the place during Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 6-foot-11 center who couldn’t make it on time for the Mavs’ charter flight to Atlanta on Tuesday, more than made up for his faux pas against the Grizzlies.
Playing like a wily veteran, Noel tallied 15 points, blocked two shots and hauled in a career-high-tying 17 rebounds to steer the Mavs to a 104-100 triumph over the Grizzlies before an American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 19,480.
Noel appeared to be everywhere at once as the Mavs (25-36) befuddled the high-powered Grizzlies while more than making up for a 16-point loss to Memphis back on Nov. 18 when Dallas tallied just 64 points. Noel’s effort helped the Mavs win the rebounding battle against the tough Grizzlies 45-39.
“He did a good job,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He was very active.
“It’s very difficult to out-rebound this team, and when you have a guy putting up 17 it gives you a chance. He was a big part of that and offensively he was active around the basket.”
Noel’s activity helped him successfully go toe-to-toe with the Grizzlies’ big front wall of Marc Gasol (13 points, six rebounds) and Zach Randolph (24 points, 10 boards).
“I’m taking it day-by-day,” Noel said. “I’m taking it all in and trying to be patient, but it’s hard to when you want to be successful so bad.
“They believe in me, so I’m just happy to be here.”
Seth Curry led the Mavs with 24 points, Harrison Barnes tallied 18 and Yogi Ferrell popped in 17 points and added five assists. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki scored 10 points and is only 38 away from becoming the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 30,000 points.
But this night belonged to Noel, who recorded his second double-double of the season and gave the Mavs a huge injection of strength and energy inside the paint.
“He is a lot further along than he was four days ago, and even two nights ago,” Carlisle said. “He had some things that he just wasn’t understanding.
“We had a good (teaching) session yesterday and then this morning before shootaround.”
That session apparently worked and Noel worked over the Grizzlies, converting 6 of 10 shots while also being the chairman of the boards.
“He’s getting there,” Carlisle said. “He still doesn’t have all of our stuff — he probably has about two-thirds of it, but we don’t have that much.
“The important thing tonight is that we were active and moving the ball in our flow game.”
And the flow game is what makes the Mavs tick.
For his part, Noel even got in on the alley-oop game as Curry lobbed a pass to him in the first half when he collected and slammed through the hoop.
“I’m growing,” Noel said. “Once I find my spots within the offense I think I will be able to score.
“I’m getting more comfortable going to my left hand.
“I need to work on my jumper and free throws. But I just have to keep on working and I will be alright.”
The Mavs certainly believe so.
“We knew it was going to be hard to run plays against these guys because they are so good defensively, and (Noel) did a good job operating in the free-flowing thing,” Carlisle said. “Plus, in that situation it is a little harder to get a body on him when you are trying to block out.”