For weeks, as the Dallas Mavericks were in a virtual free fall in the Western Conference standings, they watched in dismay as teams consistently attacked them with players who brought an abundance of energy and athleticism to the court.
It became open season on the Mavericks as opponents blistered them with alley-oop dunks, tomahawk dunks, windmill dunks. The Mavericks finally fought back with their own bundle of energy and athleticism in the form of rookie guard Justin Anderson and second-year forward Dwight Powell.
In Monday’s 97-88 victory over the Denver Nuggets, Anderson finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal in 24 minutes.
Those two were great. We definitely need some more of that going down the stretch.
Dirk Nowitzki on the play of rookie Justin Anderson and second-year pro Dwight Powell
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Powell collected a career-high 16 points, seven rebounds, two steals and one block in 30 minutes.
And from an intimidation standpoint, Powell and Anderson each had four dunks against the Nuggets. In other words, the Mavericks do have someone who can play above the rim, which is always an advantage in basketball.
“Those two were great,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We definitely need some more of that going down the stretch.
“We’re going to need it more. We’re desperate from here on out.”
While coach Rick Carlisle gave Powell his first career start and Anderson his second against the Nuggets, he didn’t say if they would remain in the starting lineup when the Mavericks (36-38) host the New York Knicks (30-45) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night at American Airlines Center.
“I’ll let you know, I’ll let you know,” is what Carlisle said.
Carlisle did relent and expound on their progress.
“Powell has been a victim of us looking at all these different veteran guys,” Carlisle said. “It was his time to get another shot, and he stays ready.
“Anderson’s been earning minutes. You’re going to see some of these guys as we go forward, no question about it.”
Powell’s minutes started plummeting during David Lee’s first game. In a stretch from Feb. 24 through March 23, Powell played a total of 25 minutes over 14 games, including eight games when he didn’t play at all.
But the demotion in the rotation didn’t shatter Powell’s confidence.
“I definitely trust coach and his decisions and I understand it was for the best. We talked about it and he told me to stay ready and to continue to work,” the 24-year-old Powell said. “And he told me the specific things I need to continue to work on, and just to keep preparing for those opportunities.
“I’ve been spending more time in the gym outside of practice just trying to make sure I’m in shape and make sure I’m getting strong and still staying ready.”
Forget the fact that he’s a rookie. He’s delivering with hard simple play and playing within himself.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Justin Anderson
Anderson, who has played in 47 games this season, said he was taken aback when Carlisle told him he would start against the Nuggets.
“And then right afterward you kind of lock in and say, “All right, what’s my job, what’s my responsibilities,’ ” the 22-year-old Anderson said. “At the end of the day it’s just playing basketball and I’m very appreciative of it. But at the same time, it’s just about basketball and I’ve got to be ready.”
Carlisle likes the aerial show Anderson and Powell give the Mavericks.
“If you look at our plus/minus over the last few games and stuff like that over the last few games, he’s one of our most productive players,” Carlisle said of Anderson. “Forget the fact that he’s a rookie. He’s delivering with hard simple play and playing within himself. And he’s earned the respect of his teammates and he’s earned the respect of the coaching staff, too.”
Guard Raymond Felton summed it up best in analyzing what Anderson and Powell provided the Mavericks against the Nuggets when he said: “I’m proud of them. To see those guys perform at a high level the way they did [Monday] and to really contribute to the team and really contribute to this win, I’m happy for them.”
Knicks at Mavericks
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, FSSW