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How two rookies saved the Mavericks' season

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Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri have provided Dallas with the tools they need to make a last minute playoff push.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS -- The draft. Those two words hold a precarious tone among Maverick fans, after Maurice Ager, Nick Fazekas, Dominique Jones and a host of other former Maverick draft picks were laid to waste in an elephant's graveyard underneath the American Airlines Center. Veteran savvy has always trumped youthful exuberance on a Rick Carlisle team. However, the Mavericks find themselves in an unusual position due to an injury plague to their current roster. Their playoff hopes have been salvaged by two rookies: Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri.

Anderson scored a career-high 19 points and snagged 10 rebounds in a vital victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. With Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Evans both out for the year, Anderson has been forced into a heavy minute role at wing. It's rare for a Maverick rookie to play 37 minutes in a game, but Anderson rose to the challenge. At 6'6 with a nearly 7' wingspan, Anderson played both forward positions relatively well. It's a role he's grown into gradually as the season has progressed.

"At the beginning of the year, coach used mess with me in early group and say, 'you gotta get the plays,'" Anderson said. "Eventually I got them all down one through five so I never forget a play in early group."

The Mavericks have sneaked by on guile and wit to wring out wins with a hodgepodge roster. Anderson, and on some levels Mejri, add an element of athleticism that breaths life into this older roster. Both Mejri and Anderson possess a special knack for blocking shots at the rim. They've collected enough highlight blocks for opposing players to bow out around the rim when they see either of the two coming their way. When Anderson and Mejri share the floor the Mavericks post a 87.2 defensive rating, which is by far the best of any two man lineup that has played at least 100 minutes for the Mavs.

Dallas converting to a slow-paced defensive style would not be possible without Anderson and Mejri. They're athletic prowess adds a bite to the smart, sound defensive schemes Rick Carlisle has concocted during the six-game win streak. It would've been unimaginable at the beginning of the season to picture Anderson and Mejri spearheading a push for the playoffs, but here we are.

Anderson is not only a defensive force for the Mavericks, his shot making is an added boost as well. He's quickly become a fan favorite at the American Airlines Center. Every jumper he knocks down brings an added energy to the building. It's something Carlisle mentioned after the game.

"Tonight he had some really key shot making in the game," Carlisle said. "He had a couple threes that I thought really bolstered our enthusiasm."

The shotmaking comes and goes for the rookie from Virginia. It was one of the major question marks when the Mavericks took him 21st overall in last year's draft. He changed his mechanics during his time at Virginia to increase his three-point percentage from 29 to 45 percent. He's shooting a disappointing 25 percent from three this season, but during the six-game win streak, Anderson has shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. His confidence continues to build with the added playing time and Carlisle's blessing.

"Just stepping into shots man and coach believing in me," Anderson said. "I miss the first one sometimes and he keeps telling me step into them and knock them down. It gives me a huge boost of confidence."

After an abysmal month of March, the Mavericks look playoff bound once again thanks to two rookies. For a brief moment, the Mavericks can lay their draft demons to rest.