There haven’t been many bright spots for the Dallas Mavericks this season, but rookie Dennis Smith Jr. qualifies. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft has dealt with growing pains, as all 20-year-old first-year point guards do, but he’s been consistently productive (right around 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal per game) and frequently electric, showcasing the kind of explosive athleticism that, if things broke a little differently, might have won him the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend.
Smith unleashed his jaw-dropping springs and showman’s flair on Tuesday, coming up with a little something extra in the closing minutes to help the Mavs finish off the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers in style:
With just under a minute and a half remaining and the Mavs holding a surprising six-point lead over the West’s No. 3 seed, Smith Jr. beat counterpart Damian Lillard to a loose ball, poking it away from the All-Star point guard and into the open court for a runout bucket. Instead of picking it up, taking a dribble and simply flushing it, though, Smith grabbed the ball on the bounce with his right hand, gave it a hard dribble in the paint, leapt, caught it on the rise with two hands, and slammed it down, bringing his teammates and the fans in the stands at American Airlines Center to their feet.
It was the signature play in a standout performance for the former N.C. State star, who led six Mavericks in double figures with 18 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals to help stun the Blazers, 115-109, in Dallas. It was just the second win in the last 10 games for the Mavericks, who improved to 24-54, putting them five games ahead of (or behind, depending on how you’re looking at things) the Phoenix Suns in the race for the NBA’s worst record and, with it, the best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft lottery.
It was the second loss to a bottom-feeder in the past week for Portland, who dropped a 108-103 decision to the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday with Lillard out of the lineup to be with his newborn son. After a dismal shooting night that saw them miss 30 of their 40 3-point attempts, the Blazers who now sit just 2 1/2 games up on the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 3 spot in the West.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t a particularly big fan of another rookie breaking out a bit of late-game razzle-dazzle against his team earlier this season, but when his guy pulled it, he opted for a wry zing rather than a full-on reproach:
Well, maybe not only a zing. Actions do have consequences:
I mean, there’s only so much excitement and production the Mavs can afford over the last few games of the season, after all. They’ve got a race to consider!
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