Rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has already played more regular season games than he has at any level, and this weekend he’ll compete in the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest as part of All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
Tuesday night it looked as though his Dallas Mavericks teammates were already on vacation in a 114-109 loss to lowly Sacramento at American Airlines Center.
But there was Smith Jr., a youthful energetic presence, scoring 17 points with 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the losing effort.
His coach was quick to point out, prior to the game, that his wish for Smith Jr. was to get some rest.
“He’ll fly out for the dunk contest and then I know he wants to go back to Fayetteville for a few days,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “After that he’s got to come right back to Los Angeles and meet us out there, and I guess you can do that when you’re 20 years old.”
Add another 20 years to that and you’re looking at the career of the Mavs all-time leading scorer, Dirk Nowitzki, who had 12 points, as Dallas got out to a rough start.
Nowitzki was 1-of-4 and the Mavs shot 35 percent in the first half, where Sacramento roared out to a 65-44 lead.
The Kings were 28-of-49 from the floor and forward Zach Randolph dropped in 18 of his 22 points for the game.
That spelled doom early for Dallas despite the play of Smith Jr., who created opportunities penetrating the lane, but had only two assists at half.
Dallas closed on a 30-11 run, but the game was ultimately never close.
Sacramento went up 26 early in the third quarter before Dallas rallied with a 17-3 run to climb back within sight of the Kings.
But Bogdan Bogdanovic was having none of it.
He reeled off a flurry of jumpers and finished with 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting.
Seven players were in double figures for the Kings.
Acquired at last week’s trade deadline, forward Doug McDermott was limited to 19 minutes, with 12 coming in the final quarter. He scored six points.
So how bad was the loss?
Sacramento has now won four of its last five games at the AAC since losing 22 in a row from 2003-2016.
Factor in yet another game full of confusing rotations, and the Mavs look farther away from where they were, just a few wins back of 8th place in the Western Conference at the beginning of 2018.
Now Dallas is battling Sacramento for worst in the west.
Maxi Kleber, who started 35-of-51 games this season and was coming off strong efforts against the Lakers and Rockets this past weekend, played just two minutes.
Forward Dwight Powell continued a hot string of play as of late, scoring 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting and working the middle against Sacramento’s bigs.
He’s averaged 18.3 points the last four games and helped hold Randolph to just four points in the second half.
Guard JJ Barea, making his third start in the last four games, led the Mavs with 19 points as well.
Dallas was dreadful in the first quarter, a point of emphasis for Carlisle this season.
The Mavs shot just 26 percent from the field and Randolph laid out 11 points, making 5-of-6 baskets.