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Mavs drop hard-fought game to Hornets, 101-109

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A loss is a loss. But this loss didn’t feel quite as bad as many of the others this season, right? The Mavs never gave up, fought hard, and put on a good show for the fans that showed up. Lots of promising things to discuss.

Competitive basketball games are fun

Yes yes, they lost. But it was a great game for three quarters. Seriously, this sort of back-and-forth battle is a blast for the audience. Especially against a good team like Charlotte. Dallas looks like a wholly different team right now. They are fighting against good teams, moving the ball like an actual NBA basketball team, and generally just looking like a group of scrappy guys who enjoy playing together.

The game got out of hand in the 4th, with Charlotte gradually building a lead that got as high as 9 points. But then Dallas stormed right back into with a 6-0 run at the last possible time they could get back into it. And then Jeremy Lamb hit the only three by a Hornet not named Marco Belinelli and that did it.

Still fun though.

Point guard play is big

The Dallas offense is still nothing close to a dynamo, but it is remarkable how much better things look with competent point guard play. Devin Harris and Deron Williams were huge tonight. Devin had his hand in everything in the first half, and then DWill took over the second. For the second straight game, DWill had a huge assist game, tossing 13 dimes tonight.

The offense is still a little too Barnes iso heavy for my tastes, and it still feels like stretches will go by where the Mavs are just killing clock ineffectively. But I feel like there’s been so much more movement and passing and spacing in the last few games since Harris and Williams have come back.

Oh and Jonathan Gibson had some decent minute tonight too, though mostly just as a scorer. He had 13 points on 56% shooting, along with a couple of assists. He was a huge part of the furious comeback right at the end of the game.

Matthews and Barnes are hella good

These two have looked like just fantastic lately. They are the core of this team. Wes is the leader holding everything together with defense, sharp shooting, and craftiness. Barnes is finding more and more ways to score the ball and continues to be an underrated rebounder. On a mediocre team, these guys are a reliable 1st and 2nd option. If you can pair them with a true star, you’ve definitely got something. Which is kind of a problem when they’re both playing so well that the Mavs might start winning too many games to pick in the top 5 of the lottery.

This was just a phenomenal offensive game from Harrison. The best part was how aggressive he was. He went after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over and over, beating up on one of the NBA’s best wing defenders. Only 6 of his 29 points came off of threes (he shot 100% from range tonight), with most of his work coming in and around the paint for the second straight game. He earned some free throws (hitting all 7), showed off some quality iso and post-up moves on individual defenders, and moved well off-ball to get in place for some passes that led to easy baskets up close.

Meanwhile Wes continued his hot shooting streak, hitting 4 of 9 3-point shots. He was far from a one trick pony though. He’s driving to the basket more, working off the dribble more, and doing it all pretty effectively. He’s beginning to look like a reliable secondary ball handler, which is so so needed on this team. Wes finally looks close to what we all hoped we would get when he signed that max contact.

Let’s talk about Dwight Powell again

Because why the hell not? Bogut got injured early in this game, so Powell got a lot of burn at center. And while he’s never going to be a rim protector, he has really become an offensive weapon. He played 31 minutes and scored 15 points. The chemistry he’s developing with DWill has been beautiful. His movement, spacing, and awareness are much improved. And like Barnes, he seems to be attacking more and thriving because of it.

I’m really impressed with his footwork moving with the ball. There was one play in particular, late in the game, where he faked a corner three and then drove to the basket. His footwork and handle let him get in around 3 defenders and finish at the rim without any real resistance. He has always (arguably) been the most talented and athletic big man on the roster, but now he’s actually doing something with that consistently. I really hope this continues, as he brings something to the offense that no one else on the team does.

If Bogut is out Wednesday, it’ll be interesting to see if Carlisle gives Powell the start. It would definitely feel earned, though I don’t relish the thought of Powell getting eaten alive by Boogie Cousins on the defensive end.

Overall, this was a tough, but entertaining, loss. Let’s hope the Mavs keep up this level of play against the Kings.