If not for the superb play of rookie forward Nicolas Brussino, the Dallas Mavericks probably don’t get out of the Verizon Center with a victory over the Washington Wizards.
Playing like a man possessed and with a purpose, Brussino posted career highs in points (11) and rebounds (nine) and also produced a pair of steals as the Mavs snapped a two-game losing streak while defeating one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
“I thought Nicolas Brussino gave us a great boost off the bench tonight and played phenomenal for us and kept us in the game,” said Harrison Barnes, who scored a team-high 22 points and also snatched nine rebounds. “He stepped up to the moment.
“I give him a lot of credit for just staying ready and staying prepared, and he made the most of it.”
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Brussino said he was surprised he played a career-high 23 minutes. Through assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who is Brussino’s interpreter, the sharpshooter form Argentina said:
“He knew coming in every day was going to be a competition for minutes and he’s prepared himself to play this many minutes and he’s prepared in the role that we’ve given him.’’
Brussino converted 4-of-5 shots — including 3-of-4 from beyond the 3-point arc — and tallied eight of his points in the final quarter, when the Mavs outscored the Wizards, 39-27.
“He’s played international ball for a long time,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who poured in 20 points. “He’s a good shooter when he has time, he’s a smart player and he obviously works hard.
“Every day he comes in and does his work. His English needs some work, but he kept playing and tried to communicate out there and he was big for us tonight.”
Brussino said it was difficult to stay mentally prepared to play, particularly when he never has any assurances that he’s going to play at all. But he added that all the hard work paid off Wednesday night.
Seth Curry, who broke out of a slump by scoring 19 points after scoring a total of eight points in the previous two games, lauded the performance by Brussino.
“Nico was huge for us,” said Curry, who was 6-of-10 from the field. “We know what his talent level is, we know what he can do out there.
“He’s somebody that’s playing with confidence, being aggressive, and he was huge for us on both ends of the floor. He knocked down some shots for us, which was great, and he got a smile out there on his face . . . because he was finally having some fun out there on the court.”
Curry produced back-to-back steals, a 3-pointer, and then fed Nowitzki for a basket that provided the Mavs their first lead of the night at 89-87 with 7:25 left in the game. From there, Brussino just took over and put his personal stamp on this game.
With Wizards chasing him, Brussino nailed back-to-back 3-pointers, and later scored on a put-back bucket that put the Mavs up 99-90 with 3:04 remaining.
Nico’s had a lot of good runs this year where he goes in the game and holds his own,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He hasn’t put up good stats necessarily, but he makes open shots.
“He’s got a good basketball IQ and knows how to play the game. Tonight he did a little bit of everything.”
And the Mavs (29-38) needed everything they got from Brussino in order to cool off the Wizards, who have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 41-26.
“He did some playmaking, he had nine rebounds, which was a big key for us winning,” Carlisle said. “And again, the timely shot-making got us over the hump.”
The win helped square this four-game road trip at 1-1, with the Mavs next playing in Philadelphia on Friday. And thanks to a breakout performance by Brussino, the Mavs can travel to the “City of Brotherly Love” with a smile etched on their faces.
Curry said of Brussino: “When you see a guy put in the work every single day in the weight room and on the court and go out there and get an opportunity and make the most of it, it’s great.”