Desperate for youthful star potential, the Dallas Mavericks made a deadline deal to bring 22-year old center Nerlens Noel to Dallas. Donnie and Fish both labeled him a ‘Tyson Chandler Starter Kit”, and if Saturday night’s 96-83 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans is any indication, he has the potential to be just that.
Noel first checked into the game midway through the first quarter to a standing ovation -- "That's a lot of love,'' Noel said -- and then contributed in multiple facets of the game all night long.
“Getting (a standing O) in my first game here, that’s something I’m appreciative of,'' Noel said. "I’m going to work my butt off to please the fan base, and it felt great to get a win in my first game in a Maverick uniform. The guys played great. We’ve got a lot of growth to go, meshing together, but I thought it went great.”
In 30 minutes of action in his debut, Noel tallied nine points, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block. His impact however, was much more than the stat sheet indicated, as Noel used his length and athleticism to consistently bother opposing shooters and disrupt passing lanes. His activity and effort was felt by a frustrated Boogie Cousins as well, who tallied just 12 points on 3-9 shooting.
Noel’s opening act was a rousing success, and one that I’m sure we will all be talking about for the remainder of the weekend. However, Noel wasn’t the only Mav to contribute to this win.
Saturday was the epitome of a team effort for the Mavs, who had eight of their nine players who saw game action score at least seven points, with five of them scoring in double-figures. The Mavs also shot 46.2 percent overall from the field as a team, as well as 46.2 percent from three.
Harrison Barnes led the way for Dallas with 19 points and three steals, including the game clinching three with 1:13 to go in the fourth quarter. Barnes was his usual efficient self, shooting just under 50 percent from the floor, and making both shots from beyond the arc.
Dirk Nowitzki also had a nice bounce-back performance after Friday night’s rough outing (a "rusty'' loss at Minnesota), going for 18 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting. Seth Curry also added 13 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter alone, while Dorian Finney-Smith contributed 12 points.
The Pelicans, and their star trio of Cousins (12 points), Anthony Davis (39), and Jrue Holiday (18) were close to the only offense that New Orleans had all night long, with the trio combining for 69 of the team’s 83 points. In fact, five of the other six players who saw action for New Orleans, scored two points or less.
Boogie did contribute 15 boards, six assists and three steals as well, with Holiday adding seven rebounds and six assists of his own.
As for Davis, as dominant as his 39-point, 14-rebound, two block stat line was, the Mavs did an acceptable job at slowing him down in the second half. Davis had 28 and 10 in the first half, but half time adjustments by Rick Carlisle, as well as solid defense from Noel and others helped hold the him to just 11 points in the second half.
“We were just a little more physical, crashing the glass, showing different looks that would make him hesitate and force turnovers on him and Cousins,'' Noel said. "A lot of credit to the coaching staff. We can keep building on it.”
The win moves the Mavs (23-35) half a game above the Pelicans (23-36) in the Western Conference playoff race, with 24 games remaining in the season. The Mavs will look to continue the momentum of Saturday’s win, as they welcome Hassan Whiteside and the 27-32 Miami Heat to the AAC. The Heat are currently one of the hottest teams in basketball, as they have won 16 of their last 18 games. Dallas will do this with the end-of-bench help of a couple of 10-day kids (D-Leaguers Quinn Cook and Ben Bentil) and with even more help from Nerlens, who didn't start in this "First Noel'' but will soon be the man in the middle for a long time to come.
“He helps us in a lot of ways,'' Carlisle said in review of Noel. "He had impact on offense – even situations where he wasn’t touching the ball with his rolls. I don’t know how many deflections he had. It really eases our front-court rotation some. It gives us a big guy with quickness and real athletic ability that can play very well in games that are small and fast. It’s pretty clear that he’s going to help us. The minutes are going to be there whether he starts or doesn’t start. The guys really loved playing with him and really took to him – that was great to see. It’s one game, but it’s a good start.”