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Justin Anderson's best game yet shows his importance the rest of the season

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The Mavericks' first round pick played a career-high 29 minutes -- and deserved them all.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Anderson was too wrapped up in the game to question whether or not he would be subbing back in the game when Rick Carlisle pulled him out with 5:33 left on the clock.

"I really didn't have enough time to think about what was going to be done," Anderson said. "I was so into the game that I was just ready for whatever came next. Coach put me and I had to continue to build off where I was."

Anderson had played the entire fourth quarter, and after a one-minute breather that saw the Mavericks quickly get overpowered, Carlisle changed his mind. Out came Devin Harris with 4:37 on the clock and back went Anderson. For a rookie who hasn't even played 500 minutes in the NBA yet, it was a sign of trust given by Carlisle that was completely rewarded.

"There were going to be some balls flying around and he's one of the best guys we have at pursuing them," Anderson said. "Look, he went in there, he was a presence on defense and he made a huge layup. That was a decisive play in the game. It worked out."

Anderson's 29 minutes played against the New York Knicks were a career high, as were his nine rebounds. Despite that, Anderson only attempted four shots -- and maybe that number should have only been three, given he quickly went to the bench early in the third after a face-up jump shot early in the shot clock was missed.

The huge layup Carlisle referenced came late in the game, when Wesley Matthews drove wildly off a loose ball situation and found the rookie cutting straight to the basket.

"It's one of those things that if I didn't catch that and finish it, he probably would have told me stay in the corner," Anderson said. "You've got to play off your instincts, do whatever you do aggressively and confidently, and I think I read the situation right, cut off the backside and had a layup."

Anderson's previous shot was equally nice -- a combination of knowing his role and using his athleticism to create an easy, easy shot attempt.

Wednesday's win was the best came of the seasons for Anderson, despite him only scoring seven points. His rebounding was crucial as the Mavericks trend smaller and smaller, and his defense stands out on a team that doesn't get much lift off the ground from most of its roster. Anderson's night included two more steals and this block -- a block that shot him past Wesley Matthews' season total and puts him just two blocks back of Zaza Pachulia in nearly 1,400 fewer minutes.

The Mavericks have seven games remaining on the schedule, and Anderson's role in the final two weeks only looks to increase. He's earning praise all across the locker room, and deservedly so.

"All out competing, all out playing hard," Dirk Nowitzki said, describing Anderson's play. "Obviously as a rookie here, he's making some mistakes, but he's playing through it. He's a great rebounder for us, plays his position for us and snatches them, made a big three again, made a big drive and laid it in with the lefty there in the fourth."

Even as a 22-year-old, Anderson understands his role is to help the Mavericks win it for Dirk. Occasionally, in games like Wednesday, they'll need to win it in spite of Dirk, helping him out when he has an understandable off night.

"We understand what we're playing for, Dirk and his career," Anderson said. "We want to put this organization in the place that they're used to being in, and it's a lot of pride on the line for the name on the front of our jersey. Right now, we're just playing hard, we're playing solid basketball."

Anderson's role may be much bigger next year, as he continues progressing. Without question, Anderson couldn't have played 29 valuable minutes for the Mavericks to begin the season. He has come a long way, something both he and Rick Carlisle will attest to. If Anderson's night had ended when he subbed out with five-and-a-half minutes to play, he wouldn't have said a word. Instead, he came back and helped them win the game.

"I don't really think about it too much," Anderson said. "At the end of the day, I just want to get in there and just play hard."