Dennis Smith Jr.’s right ankle is just fine.
So, too, is his right wrist.
Unfortunately for the home team, it ran into a defensive buzzsaw in the Utah Jazz, which held the Mavs to their lowest point-total of the season in a 113-104 victory at the American Airlines Center.
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Smith was 12-of-19 for a game-high 27 points in what Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle called “one of his very best games since he’s been here.”
“He had a real great feel for play calls,” Carlisle said. “He was pushing tempo, he was mixing the drive game, the three, and hit open mid-range shots. He kept throwing the ball ahead and getting guys running. That’s what a great point guard does, so that was great to see.”
It was far from an efficient night from the floor for the other shooters in the Mavs’ starting lineup. Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic (14 points, 5 assists, 5 turnovers), and Wesley Matthews (22 points) combined to go 13-of-43, including 4-of-14 from three. Dallas, as a whole made a season-low 9 treys on a season-low 29 attempts.
Barnes, playing in his second game this season after missing the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, is clearly still trying to find his comfort zone with this new-look Mavs roster. He was just 3-of-13 shooting and missed all four 3-point attempts for a frustrating 7 points in 34 minutes.
DeAndre Jordan, who fell one assist shy of a triple-double with 12 points, 19 rebounds and 9 assists, was quick to remind the media after the game that this was, indeed, only Barnes’ second game this season.
“Once we figure it out on the defensive side we are going to be fine,” he said. “It is still early in the season. This is our sixth game, I think? I dropped out of college so I don’t know. I think we have 76 more left. We have to stay positive and try to win games on the road. But we definitely have to protect home court.”
Carlisle pointed out that Barnes is adjusting to not having the ball in his hands as much as he has in previous seasons.
“Harrison has been used to touching the ball more than anybody on the floor, other than Dennis, who’s a point guard,” Carlisle said. “We’re playing a different style, we’re spread out, have more playmakers, we gotta open up the floor to be able to drive and do other things, and create roles for DeAndre [Jordan]. There’s going to be an adjustment period for everybody.”
Carlisle noted that this group only practiced three days together before Barnes’ injury.
“Those things always take time,” Carlilse said. “We just gotta play with a more even level of force from start to finish. That’s the bottom line.”
Ah, yes, those slow starts. They’re becoming a bit of an issue in Dallas (2-4).
You’d have never guessed this game featured three of the top five individual field goal percentages in the league this season (Dwight Powell - 1st, Rudy Gobert - 2nd, Jordan - 5th) the way the Mavs started out the game.
They were 1-of-10 from the floor and just 6-of-23 in the first quarter. That enabled the Jazz to jump out to an 11-2 lead, an advantage they would hold until Smith’s reverse layup with 3:00 left in the half gave Dallas its first lead at 41-39.
Carlisle said his team is playing its best when it does so with ‘a lot of force, especially defensively.’
“My gut is we gotta do more of that to start games,” he said. “It gets us in transition and it gets us with an open floor where we can drive and make plays better. A lot of everything in this league comes down to force and disposition. Top to bottom, we had some very good stretches, but in most cases they were reactive. You never want to be a reactor in this league.”
Jordan knows these slow starts don’t have anything to do with offensive capability.
“It’s tough. It’s definitely tough. I don’t think it’s our offense. We have guys that are capable of scoring,” he said. “There’s going to be times when we miss shots and our offense isn’t going. But we’ve got to have that effort defensively to want to get stops.”
The Mavs hung around long enough to make things interesting late. Smith’s 3-pointer with 2:35 left cut Utah’s lead to 108-101. He was then called for a questionable foul on Utah’s next possession, when it appeared as though he got a clean block on the 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert, who led Utah with 23 points. As it was, though, Gobert knocked down both free throws and Joe Ingles followed with a 3-pointer to put this game out of reach with 1:55 left.
Dallas travels to San Antonio (3-2) on Monday before traveling to Los Angeles for a Wednesday tilt with LeBron James and the Lakers.