PORTLAND, Ore. -- After his stellar performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, Dallas Mavericks center Salah Mejri said he didn’t need his own confidence, but he did need the coach’s confidence.
And the bold rookie didn’t blink when he made that remark.
When asked after this morning’s shootaround at the Moda Center if Mejri has his confidence, coach Rick Carlisle said:
"I didn’t read any of the postgame stuff. When he plays within himself, within our system he’s a guy that can help us.
"It’s an accurate answer.’’
While Carlisle wouldn’t commit to any in-depth remarks about the confidence he has or doesn’t have in Merji, it’s clear that the rookie from Tunisia was the game-changer the Mavs used to pull out a very important 132-120 victory in overtime against the Blazers this past Sunday.
In 33 minutes off the bench, Mejri scored 13 points and had season highs in rebounds(14) and blocked shots (six). And probably a season high in confidence.
"I know what I can do, I know I can help this team,’’ Mejri said. "I can do things like no one on this team can do like blocking shots, bring energy to the game.
"So the coach have to believe in me, have to give me some more minutes. I know he do believe in me, but we have a lot of big men here -- they’re all more experienced than me -- so I don’t blame him or nothing.’’
The Mavs (35-35) are hoping what Mejri did to the Blazers (36-35) this past Sunday, he can do them again tonight at 9 when they square off at the Moda Center.
"He’s obviously not going to give us 13 and 14 and six every night,’’ forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "But we need his length, shot-blocking, his athleticism.’’
Nowitzki marvels at Mejri’s shot-blocking skills, which is something the 7-2, 245-pounder takes very serious. He even blocked shots by Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the same game earlier this year.
"I’ve got to admit he had some great blocks the other night,’’ Nowitzki said. "When (Portland guard Damian) Lillard was in the pick-and-roll and crossed him over and went to the basket, he chased him down and came from the back and blocked that shot.
"That was really impressive. You just got to be active.’’
More precise, the Mavs believe Mejri must continue to be fearless and continue bringing an abundance of energy to the court.
"We just need him to play his game within our system,’’ Carlisle said. "That’s the big thing.
"At this point when you’re coming into a game with this kind of magnitude, everybody has to play very aggressively within their capabilities within our system. When he does that he can be a very positive factor for us.’’
A wiry player who has some physical limitations, Mejri is not going to muscle-up to any of the beefy centers around the NBA. But he’s 29 years old and has been played international basketball since 2006 until signing with the Mavs last July 30.
"He’s an experienced player, (and) he played in a lot of big international games, and so he’s not a typical rookie,’’ Carlisle said. "His experience helps, and he understands how to play to his strengths.
"His length is one of the positive factors that be brings to our team and he’s got to a good feel for finding open areas. Shot-blocking is his strength.’’
But since Mejri has only played sporadically for the Mavs, he presents of element of surprise for the opponents, because they probably don’t game-plan for what he brings to the court.
"He’s such a different type of skill-set guy,’’ Carlisle said. "Look, when he went in the game we were getting our (rear ends) kicked and I think everybody picked it up.
"Him being an energetic guy in conjunction with the rest of our guys picking up the intensity led to a lot of good things.’’
The Mavs were a plus 30 when Mejri was on the court Sunday. That’s an attention-getting number.
"I’m on the bench,’’ said Mejri, who averages 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 24 games this season. "I’m ready.
"Whenever (Carlisle) calls my name I will try to do my best to help this team.’’
Actually, Mejri is exactly what the Mavs need. He has the length and shot-blocking skills that their top two centers – Zaza Pachulia and David Lee – lack.
And often when players know there’s a good chance their shot will get blocked if they drive to the basket, they simply just won’t go in there.
"It can be a very positive factor for us,’’ Carlisle said. "It was on Sunday.
"Again, that’s just Salah doing what he does.’’
And when Mejri is on top of his shot-blocking game, that defensive mindset raises the Mavs’ overall game to new heights.
Carlisle said: "When it’s a situation where he knows he’s not going to quite get to (block a shot), and if he does try he’s going to turn his man loose on the boards. These are situations that a guy like him has to gauge and be very smart about.’’