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 Wednesday 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 level of confidence he has in Merji, it’s clear that the rookie from Tunisia was the game-changer in the Mavericks’ important 132-120 victory in overtime against the Blazers on Sunday.
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In 33 minutes off the bench, the 7-foot-2, 245-pound Mejri scored 13 points and had season highs in rebounds (14) and blocked shots (six). And probably a season high in confidence.
He’s obviously not going to give us 13 [points] and 14 [rebounds] and six [blocks] every night, but we need his length, shot-blocking, his athleticism.
Forward Dirk Nowitzki on the play of rookie center Salah Mejri
“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 [has] to believe in me, [has] to give me some more minutes. I know he [does] 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 Mavericks (35-35) played in Portland (36-35) late Wednesday night 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.”
The Mavericks believe Mejri must continue to bring 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.”
I’m ready. Whenever [Rick Carlisle] calls my name I will try to do my best to help this team.
Mavericks center Salah Mejri
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 and had been playing international basketball since 2006 before signing with the Mavericks in 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. “Shot-blocking is his strength.”
But since Mejri has only played sporadically for the Mavericks, he presents an 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.”
The Mavericks were plus-30 in points 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.”