Usually when the Dallas Mavericks need to break out of a funk, coach Rick Carlisle battens down the hatches and turns to his trusted veterans for some much-needed relief.
On Monday night at the Pepsi Center, a desperate Carlisle turned to the two youngest players on his roster for that much-needed relief.
With 22-year-old rookie Justin Anderson and 24-year-old second-year player Dwight Powell providing some sparkling energy and athleticism, the Mavs snapped a three-game losing streak by hammering their way to a 97-88 triumph over the Denver Nuggets.
The victory helped the Mavs (36-38) end a season-high four-game road trip with a glum 1-3 record. But they also were able to tie Houston for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, though the Rockets own the tiebreaker over the Mavs.
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They both did a great job. They both grinded on defense and they made smart timely plays on offense, and they played within themselves.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Dwight Powell and Justin Anderson
More than anything, with the Mavs’ defense allowing 113.2 points per contest over the previous 12 contests, Carlisle knew something had to change with the way his team was going south in the standings. So he gave Powell his first career start and Anderson his second career start.
The results were heartening as both Anderson and Powell were flying all over the court as if they had been given a new lease on their young basketball careers.
“They both did a great job,” Carlisle said. “They both grinded on defense and they made smart timely plays on offense, and they played within themselves.”
Powell finished with a career-high 16 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a slew of highlight reel dunks in 30 minutes. Anderson added 11 points — two shy of his career high — four rebounds a pair of eye-popping blocked shots in 24 minutes.
And when the Nuggets were threatening to send the Mavs back home packing another loss, it was Powell who stepped up and tallied eight consecutive points that bumped the Dallas lead to 89-79 with 4:23 remaining.
My vets, they had my back going into the game, telling me just do what you’ve been doing, you’ve been doing great. When everyone believes in you like that it helps a lot.
Mavericks rookie Justin Anderson
Two of those baskets came via a high-powered dunk and a dunk off an offensive rebound. The other two came on 18- and 13-foot jump shots, which has been lacking in Powell’s arsenal in recent weeks.
“I’m just glad [the jumpers] came before the end of the game, for sure,” said Powell, who was 8-of-13 from the field. “I talked to Dirk [Nowitzki] and he noticed some stuff that I was doing — just rushing it and my feet were a little messed up.
“He just told me to settle down, him and J. J. [Barea] and Raymond [Felton].”
Anderson, who was 5-of-8 from the field, also settled down while enjoying the best overall game of his young career. The rookie from Virginia knows his minutes came at the expense of older players, but he also was ready to produce when Carlisle called his number.
“My vets, they had my back going into the game, telling me just do what you’ve been doing, you’ve been doing great,” Anderson said. “When everyone believes in you like that it helps a lot.
“So both Dwight and I, we just tried to make sure we told each other to just keep it simple, do what we’ve been doing and bring the energy and let the rest take care of itself.”
Anderson and Powell started alongside Wesley Matthews, Nowitzki and Felton. Clearly, the Mavs, who were 2-10 in their previous 12 games while looking porous on defense, had to do something to get things flipped in their favor.
I remember a great block from Anderson in transition on just being there and using his athleticism, so it was fun to watch. Those two were great and we definitely need some more of that going down the stretch.
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki on Anderson and Powell
“If you’re having an energy problem and if you’re having a problem defending, then you need to get more energetic, better defenders in the game, and you’ve got to make the point,” Carlisle said. “I felt right now we got to make the point that anything other your best effort and your best energy is unacceptable.
“These two guys [Anderson and Powell] you know are going to go hard unconditionally. Look, they delivered tonight; we still need everybody and each game is critical, but we’re still alive and we’re still fighting.”
With the fresh new look, Dallas led 28-24 after the first quarter, 50-46 at the half and 72-66 entering the fourth period. The Mavs also turned 21 Denver turnovers into 29 points — but there seems to be a debate on how those turnovers occurred.
“I gave [Dallas] no credit at all,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We beat ourselves,
“We made mistake after mistake. We talked about it in the first quarter — had seven turnovers for 10 points.”
What the Mavs talked about mostly was their defense holding an opponent to the fewest points Dallas has allowed in 25 contests since beating Phoenix 91-78 on Jan. 31.
“I thought defensively we were solid,” said Nowitzki, who struggled with just 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting. “We tried to force them into shots on the outside and not give up tons of lobs, and not give them tons of easy ones in transition.
“So defensively that was definitely one of our best efforts in a long, long time.”
Nowitzki, though, also took time to discuss how proud he was of the job turned in by Anderson and Powell.
“We’re obviously not a team that’s blessed with athleticism, so those two guys were great for us,” Nowitzki said. “They’re active, they’re young, they’re quick, they both had great tip dunks, just active on defense.
“I remember a great block from Anderson in transition on just being there and using his athleticism, so it was fun to watch. Those two were great and we definitely need some more of that going down the stretch.”
Dwain Price: 817-390-7760, @dwainprice