MEMPHIS—It took them six games to do it, but the younger players for the Dallas Mavericks were finally able to rally around each other and come away with a victory.
With Nicolas Brussino, Nerlens Noel, Jarrod Uthoff, Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell holding their own, the Mavs finished the regular season with a 100-93 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at FedEx Forum. The win was a major shot in the arm for the Mavs’ young players, most of whom didn’t receive any consistent minutes until the team was eliminated from the playoffs on Apr. 1.
"I think it’s a great thing to leave off with," said Noel, who contributed 10 points and seven rebounds. "I think as the guys continue to get acclimated and playing comfortably, I think they’ll be able to step into better roles as they progress themselves with their skill sets over the summer."
As the game progressed, the Mavs (33-49) appeared to gain more confidence. They were only down 82-80 when the Grizzlies’ last rotation player – Zach Randolph – finally left for good with 6:20 remaining in the game.
"I think that shows the young guys are definitely capable of being able to step up with some good opportunities," Noel said. "I think it’s a bright spot.
“I think guys will continue to show what they’re capable of and hopefully get in the rotation and prove what they’re worth over the summer."
One player who certainly has proven he’s a keeper is Brussino. When given time, the rookie from Argentina has been steady as a rock and shown that he has the skills to be a rotation player.
"They were being physical with (Brussino) early," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He adjusted and he got in a more leverage position on offense and defense and made them foul him a few times, he got open for a few shots and he hit the big dagger shot at the end.
"He did some good things, and he’s also showing in a pinch you can put him out there at point and he can run the team and get through it."
Brussino was 4-of-8 from 3-point range and also picked up seven rebounds and two steals.
"I’ve been a big fan of Nico’s for some time now, ever since I started to play with him and watch him play," Noel said. “Just his overall feel for the game, the way he can pass the ball and shoot it.
"I think it’ll be a big offseason for him to get stronger and really try to push himself into the lineup next year and spread some things out."
The Mavs snapped a five-game losing streak, even though they didn’t even bring veterans Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry, Wesley Matthews and J. J Barea with them to Memphis.
Uthoff believe the victory was a morale boost for the young players, especially those who haven’t received any steady minutes this season.
"I think it’s very important, because it speaks to the future of the Mavs,’’ Uthoff said. "You’ve got a bunch of young guys, rookies – even Nerlens, he’s been around a couple of years, but he’s still relatively young.
"I think it’s just a great opportunity for all of us to get on the court together and kind of go through some growing pains together and figure these games out."
Carlisle was definitely impressed with the young players, particularly since he’s been able to get a better gauge lately of what they’re capable of accomplishing going forward.
"Particularly that group that was out there at the end, everybody did something good," Carlisle said. "All of this stuff really helps these guys get better."
Carlisle also was impressed with guard DeAndre Liggins, who the Mavs claimed off waivers late Tuesday. Liggins played in his first game with the Mavs on Wednesday.
Barely knowing any plays and without a practice session, Liggins played 25 minutes, scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds, recorded a pair of steals and was 3-of-6 from the field.
‘I like him, he was very aggressive," Carlisle said. "In the second half, mostly in the fourth quarter, a couple of his defensive plays really got us going.
"He’s an NBA player, there is no question about it, he’s an NBA defender. He plays with force, he plays with attitude."
Ligigns, 29, played 61 games with Cleveland this season before they released him this past Sunday. Carlisle said the Mavs have some time before they’ll have to decide whether Liggins will be part of their squad next season.
"I think we have an opportunity to keep him around if we want to," Carlisle said. "Hopefully we will get him into the gym some during the postseason a little bit while we still have him under contract before we have to decide on his option.
‘We are always evaluating and looking for young, veteran players that are hungry.”
Much like the hungry young group of players Carlisle has at his disposal. The group that beat the odds and came away with a win Wednesday in Memphis.