The Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Washington Wizards 113-105 Tuesday night. Harrison Barnes turned in one of his best games as a professional player, scoring 26, grabbing 7 rebounds, and dishing out a career high 5 assists. John Wall scored 25 and Bradley Beal chipped in 25 in defeat for Washington.
The first period was a back and forth affair. The Mavericks opted to start Dirk Nowitzki at center again, resulting in good looks for the Dallas offense. The Mavericks were unable to protect the rim and Washington quickly worked themselves back into the game. The Wizards, powered by four three pointers, took a six point lead before Dallas stormed back on a Wesley Matthews three and a pair of buckets on Devin Harris attempting to capitalize on a two for one. John Wall gave the Wizards a 29-28 lead to end the quarter after a lay in and free throw after a foul.
The second quarter was defined by runs, with the Mavericks dominating most of the period, leading by as many as 9 points on the strength of Dwight Powell rim runs and Dirk Nowitzki getting a few shots to fall. The Wizards rallied back in a massive way, going on a 20-3 run powered by 13 points from John Wall to take a 67-61 lead at the half.
Dallas retook control in the third frame, through deft use of the three point shot. The Mavericks connected on six during the quarter at key times. Harrison Barnes played a huge part, making three excellent passes out of double teams which resulted in triples. The Wizards hung tight as a result of repeated Mavericks turnovers and held on to a 88-87 lead heading into the fourth.
Washington started cold and never recovered. Dallas capitalized with the starters on the bench, inching out to a four point lead, then a seven point lead on a Deron Williams and-one. Jason Smith finally broke the seal for the Wizards, driving around Dirk for a lay in, but Seth Curry answered with a three of his own. Bradley Beal slammed an ally-oop from John Wall, but the Wizards saw their momentum stifled by a terrible technical foul call for holding on to the rim. Harrison Barnes hit the free throw and Wesley Matthews hit another three. Dallas opted to ride out a hot Harrison Barnes down the stretch, but John Wall gave the Mavericks one final scare, pulling the Wizards back within five points before Barnes crushed their hopes with his second three of the period. Dallas won 113-105.
We just witnessed the best game Harrison Barnes has played in a Maverick uniform
As one prone to overreaction, this game was a delight to watch from Barnes from start to finish. While Barnes connected on his usual share of jumpers and drives, where Barnes shined was getting to the free throw line early and often. He tied his career high in made free throws with 8 and his season high in attempts with nine. Once the refs start giving him the occasional star treatment, we might well witness Barnes shoot the 5-6 free throws a game I’ve been pining for all season. It was fun to watch him work against the subpar defender in Kelly Oubre, but Barnes repeatedly frustrated star-in-the-making Otto Porter.
And the passing, oh the passing. FIVE ASSISTS. FIVE. Yes, some of this is the Mavericks starting to click as a unit and plays working as their drawn up (always with multiple options that become clearer with experience). Yes, part of it is Dallas actually hitting shots which didn’t happen much in November. But Barnes is finally starting to see teammates that he didn’t earlier in the season. In the third quarter alone he drew doubles (in one case, a quadruple team) three different times and found Devin Harris for open looks. One was a wing post up, the other a drive and dish, and the last was a free throw line back down like the Dirk Nowitzki of old. Five assists isn’t going to happen every night, but I don’t think averaging over two is out of the question.
He hit two threes as well. More of that, please, Mr. Barnes. More of all of this, in fact.
Three pointers and free throws are where you win in the modern NBA
In an 8 point game where the Wizards attempted 92 shots and the Mavericks attempted 78 shots, the difference came in the 17 made threes totaling 54 points for Dallas, compared to the 11 threes for 33 points for Washington. The Mavericks also doubled up the Wizards in free throw attempts, 24 to 12.
The Mavericks will rarely shoot 53% from beyond the arc but I do think the free throw charge can be replicated through attacking the basket.
Where does Dirk fit?
The Dirk-center line up is out of my dreams from 2013-14, but it’s questionable two years later. It working, to some degree, as both Barnes and Dirk are getting good looks, but without a rim protector, the Mavericks are prone to giving up leads like they did at the end of the first half. It’s nice to see Dirk’s minutes remain at a reasonable level as he continues to work back, but it’s a bit of a challenge to see where he fits in for more than short stretches.
Obviously, the Mavericks will figure this out and I’ll get roasted for ever wondering what the issue could be. But for now, and particularly when we look at his box scores, it feels reasonable to wonder what Dirk’s role will be if the team can pull themselves out of the hole they’re in.
Devin Harris and the two-for-one
In mid-March, when Devin Harris pulls up for a transition three with 35 seconds left in the first quarter and the shot rims out, remember January 3rd against the Wizards as the game which sealed his role as the two for one specialist. Harris hit a three in transition, then took another contested jumper on the next possession. Both went in. It may cause you to yell at your television for the rest of the season, because we know he’ll keep doing it.