Coming into Monday night’s game at the AAC, the Miami Heat were the hottest team in the NBA. They had won 16 of their last 18 games, including victories over Golden State, Atlanta, Houston (twice), as well as this same Mavs team just over a month ago. The Dallas Mavericks, however, fresh off the All-Star Break with some newly invigorated confidence, were looking to start a streak of their own, as they took down the Heat 96-89.
There’s no point in dancing around it any longer: Seth Curry has become a catalyst of this Mavs offense. Since the All-Star Break, Seth has averaged 24.3 points per game, and has shot nearly 59 percent from the floor.
Here, Seth was dynamite once again, scoring 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.
He has also developed a nice two-man game with Harrison Barnes on the offensive end. With both guys playing in sync, and finding each other in the right spots, this offense has become much more efficient.
“He’s really gotten better in all areas,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said of Curry. “The scoring is what everybody is noticing, but he’s defending well, too. The playmaking is another part of his game that’s getting better.’’
This is heady stuff for those of us who recall Dallas’ original plan with Seth. He was plucked from the Kings’ scrap heap, giving a “little contract’’ (about $3 million a year), and asked to play the “Charlie V’’ role.
Instead, it’s more like the “Jason Terry’’ role.
Rick remembers. But he remembers something else about Curry, too.
“He didn’t have a confidence problem when he got here,’’ the coach said, “and he still doesn’t.”
As for Barnes, he was a power on the offensive end, scoring 24 points and grabbing four boards on 50-percent shooting. The Heat, especially early in the game, struggled to find an answer for Barnes, who torched the defenders that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra attempted to throw at him.
Said Curry of teaming with Barnes: “We’re figuring it out. The more we play the more we figure out spots and defense, whether a defense is switching. Him setting screens is big for us. I hope we help a little bit, and I’ll try to find him when he pops and gets open. It’s a lot of fun playing with those guys right now.”
The Heat did a good job slowing down the rest of the Mavs offense, however, as outside of Barnes and Curry, Dallas failed to produce another scorer in double-figures. (10-day guy Quinn Cook played 17 survivable minutes in the backcourt; fellow 10-day newcomer Ben Bentil did not play.)
They get some key contributions, however.
Dirk Nowitzki (eight points), was just 2-of-9 from the floor, but contributed 12 rebounds and a block, while Wes Matthews (nine points) was great on the defensive end all night long, and hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
In just his second game as a Mav, Nerlens Noel had another impactful outing, despite some early foul trouble. He was able to influence the game on both ends of the floor, without lighting up the stat book, but by setting screens, disrupting passing lanes, and bothering shots. He came off the bench here and finished the game with six points, six rebounds, one block and one steal in 25 minutes. Furthermore, his defensive versatility is stifling foes trying to force Dallas into switching problems on D.
For the Heat, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic were the breadwinners, with Whiteside going for a 19-point, 19-rebound double-double, and Dragic leading the team in scoring with 24 points and six assists. It should be noted: Whiteside is a really hard guy to keep off the boards. He leads the NBA in rebounds at 14.1 per game, and is one of the more athletic players in the game.
One of the important things to take away from this game though, is that despite Whiteside’s presence on the boards, Dallas was almost even with Miami in overall rebounding, and Noel’s presence down low for the Mavs has been a major part of that. He might not pull down every rebound, but he does a great job keeping opposing centers out of the lane, and poking the ball out to his teammates when he can’t corral it himself.
Said Rick: “With them, it’s all about trying to keep them in front of you, take away the paint. Whiteside is a beast in there. Dragic was headed for another 35-point game. The last four or five minutes, we really did a good job of just making a stand at the defensive end. We got almost every rebound. We ended the game on a 12-0 run, which is really a terrific accomplishment in a game like this. These guys have scored 100 points or more in the last 16 games, and to hold them under 90 – especially with their big first quarter – that’s a big deal. It shows we were able to bear down.’’
Monday night’s win will have Dallas (24-35) looking to keep the momentum going as they head into Atlanta to take on the Hawks (33-26) on Wednesday. It will be yet another stiff test for Nerlens himself, who will have to find a way to slow down Dwight Howard and his his dominance in the paint, in what will be Noel’s third straight game facing an All-Star caliber center on the other side.
Carlisle clearly thinks Noel — like the Mavs in their entirety, as they eyeball the No. 8 spot — is ready for another test.
“It’s great to have a guy of that size and length with that kind of quickness,’’ the coach said. “He can protect the rim, but he can also switch out and guard three-point shooters on the perimeter. There are just not many guys like that around.”