The Dallas Mavericks traveled to the Target Center in Minneapolis this evening, taking on the playoff-contending Minnesota Timberwolves for the third time this season. It was a game that was close the whole way through, but somehow lacked intensity and life, until the final five minutes. For the Mavericks, that might be due to an injury list that feels like a full roster:
Dennis Smith Jr. (left hip strain) is officially OUT vs. Minnesota. Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia), Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) & Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) are also out. Nerlens Noel (left thumb surgery) is not with the team.— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) December 10, 2017
But still, the Mavericks hung tough all the way through, narrowly losing 97-92.
The first quarter saw the teams play each other close, trading baskets with no one going on a major run. The Mavericks led 24-23 after one. And after having several rough minutes in the second quarter that saw them down, the Mavericks outscored the Timberwolves 21-14, to end the half up 48-47.
The teams stayed so close for two reasons: the Mavericks forced 12 first half turnovers, but also got out-rebounded 24-15 (8 offensive rebounds for Minnesota) and gave up a boatload of second chance points.
Also just flat out Karl-Anthony Towns. He plays almost no defense, but offensively he’s so tough, notching 21 points and 9 rebounds in the first half alone tonight. But the Mavericks made adjustments, and he was held to 7 points and 3 rebounds in the second half.
The third quarter was much of the same - neither team running out to too big a lead. A combination of Towns only scoring five in the quarter, and a spurt of seven points from J.J. Barea, the Mavericks entered the final frame down 71-69.
The fourth quarter seemed to amble along like the first 36 minutes, until an odd sequence that saw Dwight Powell receive an uncharacteristic technical, and KAT receiving one shortly after (from video review). Both teams traded big shots down the stretch, but Minnesota just made a few more. Matthews had a solid look to tie it with 15 seconds left, but it didn’t go, and the Mavs collected another L.
The no-names getting noticed
Outside of the development of Dennis Smith Jr., and Dirk’s coronation as a living legend, this is what this season needs to be about. The hopeful return of Seth Curry and Dorian Finney-Smith should be considered as well. But when a team is rebuilding, their main objective is mining for gold where no other team is looking. And recently, there have been signs that something might be surfacing.
Maxi Kleber has been a fun story, especially since entering the starting line up back on November 17th against the Timberwolves. He’s brought stability to the lineup, allowing everyone to return to a comfortable position. And he’s also brought energy and effort in areas that the team as a whole has been missing badly. Tonight was no different, putting up 16 points, 5 rebounds and 1 block in 26 minutes (3-of-5 from three).
But the low-key story early tonight might have been Antonius Cleveland, who has shown spurts of potential in short stints. Most of his notable play so far has been a couple highlight dunks. But in 10 first half minutes Cleveland hit a deep two, grabbed a rebound, a block, two steals, and drew a charge, playing most of his time against Andrew Wiggins. With Dorian Finney-Smith injured, the Mavericks desperately need a player like Cleveland.
When the Mavs signed Kleber this summer, everyone was all.....who? And grabbing Cleveland from the G-League to see what he’s got was a smart move from the front office. Here’s to more of that!
Harrison Barnes is a stealth battleship
The USS Zumwalt is a nearly three year old guided-missile destroyer. It’s nearly 600-feet long, but has stealth capabilities that give it a radar cross-section of a small fishing boat (Thanks, wikipedia!).
This is Harrison Barnes. He has been a model of consistency over the last 15 months with the Mavericks - going to battle every night, many games in which he has been the only real offensive option.
Yes, there are plenty of things we’d like to see him do to really earn that max contract. But considering the negative momentum Barnes brought with him to Dallas, where he is now is astonishing. And because the Mavericks as a whole have been so bad, the national media doesn’t really give him his due. And we don’t all the time either. He’s sort of remained a stealth player over the last season plus.
Tonight was more of the same from Barnes. He quietly had a consistent game for the first three quarters. He played efficiently, and carried a load in many iso situations. But when the Mavericks could have used a player to take the game over late, he couldn’t get them to go in.
Life without your lottery pick
The Mavericks played their second game in a row without Dennis Smith Jr. While both games have remained fairly close, there is noticeable energy and entertainment missing from the floor.
The Mavs have been vanilla for a while. Not like Spurs vanilla. Just a regular old vanilla - even in games where they’re competitive. The future of the franchise, both competitively and as entertainment, is bright with DSJ. Get well soon, because: