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In a tough loss, Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. provide a glimpse of the future

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Despite some growing pains, the Mavericks might just be headed in the right direction.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

With 1:40 to go in the second quarter, the Mavericks found themselves in a hole with the first half quickly ending. Plagued by 12 first-half turnovers, Dallas couldn’t seem to find much rhythm. Luka Doncic, who came into the night questionable with a sore back, looked good early although he had limited shot attempts.

After the Spurs pushed the lead to 13 on a Rudy Gay jumper, the Mavs initiated the offensive with a Dennis Smith Jr. dribble handoff to Doncic on the left wing. The rookie immediately dribbled off a DeAndre Jordan screen at the top of the key and executed his patented step-back three for only his third made field goal attempt on as many attempts in the half.

I’m not the best lip reader, but the broadcast caught Doncic muttering something about wanting the ball with an expletive thrown in there as well. The third overall pick had seven points on four shots through two quarters.

Doncic detonated after the break scoring 14 points in the third quarter alone and hitting all three of his shots behind the arc in the second half. The Mavericks unleashed Doncic in the pick-and-roll where he was surgical. He posted a 37.2 percent usage rate in the second half compared to 20 percent in the first per nba.com’s box score stats. When his defender went under the screen, he let if fly from deep. When his defender went over the top, Doncic shielded his defender behind him, recognized when the big was sagging and lofted up a feathery floaters.

Doncic ended the night with 31 points (24 in the second half), eight rebounds and four assists. That puts him at 20.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and four assists per game through the first seven games, which is unprecedented even if it is a small sample size.

For some reason Doncic was a polarizing draft prospect, but his confidence never wavered and even said as much when asked if he was surprised about his NBA start.

“Not me,” Doncic told the media after the Mavs overtime loss. “I already know how I can play basketball. I know a lot of people may be (surprised).”

It was a huge night, one that overshadowed a big night from the other Mavericks’ young building block, Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith was fantastic in his own right. He finished with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting with four assists. He struggled from behind the arc, going 1-of-6, but his one make was a gigantic bucket.

Literally everything about this is gigantic. The situation. The step back. How high he jumps. How far his legs flail out. GIGANTIC.

Similar to the game against Minnesota, Smith served as the closer in the final possession. With no timeouts and down one, Smith used a Jordan ball screen and drew the foul on a jump shot with 2.5 seconds remaining. Calm and collected, he knocked down the first. The second made a revolution around the rim before spinning out which was Smith’s biggest blemish on the night.

Overall, Smith had another good game which followed a solid 27-point outing against the Utah Jazz on Sunday. Against the Spurs, Smith was a team-high plus-15. Excluding his three-point attempts, he was 8-of-12 from the field. Like Doncic, Smith read the pick-and-roll defense beautifully. When the big sagged off, he elevated for a clean jumper. He looked significantly better making decisions after using the screen, and his confidence was evident in an efficient night from inside the arc.

After the game Smith showed maturity and leadership rarely expressed from 20-year olds.

“I’m proud of the way we fought,” Smith told reporters. “We stuck together. It’s up to me to close the game. I didn’t do it tonight, but I will next time. It’s on me. I went up there with confidence. I just told myself to trust my mechanics. The first one was good and I thought the second one was too. That’s how it goes sometimes. I’m going to shoot the next one, too. I’ll make it next time. Tonight was just on me.”

Rick Carlisle and the organization as a whole won’t entertain moral victories. But the Mavericks took a step in the right direction Monday night. On the backs of the kids who aren’t legally allowed to drink alcohol - and on the second night of a back-to-back - Dallas took the Spurs to overtime in San Antonio.

It’s a process for the Mavericks, as cliche as it sounds. But Monday proved Dallas is in good hands with Doncic and Smith.