Smith proves his playmaking worth

Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr driving to the basket past LA Clippers forward Tobias Harris at the American Airlines Centre. The Mavericks won 106-98 to improve to 21-26.
Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr driving to the basket past LA Clippers forward Tobias Harris at the American Airlines Centre. The Mavericks won 106-98 to improve to 21-26.PHOTO: REUTERS

DALLAS • Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was visibly giddy. Owner Mark Cuban was upbeat, too, trying to convince reporters that player-team discord happens all the time.

Dennis Smith Jr? It was impossible to tell from his facial expressions before, during and after Tuesday's 106-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers how he felt about returning from a fortnight-long self-exile from the team.

But it has always been hard to read Smith. The most emotion he showed in the National Basketball Association game was following his alley-oop lob from just behind mid-court. DeAndre Jordan's dunk gave Dallas a 99-93 lead and Smith extended his arms and pointed at him.

In his first game since Jan 7, Smith contributed 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Rookie of the Year front runner Luka Doncic added 17 points.

Although Carlisle sounded definitive last Saturday when he described Doncic as a point guard, Smith's return moved Doncic to shooting guard.

"But we have two point guards," he said. "That's the beauty of it. And in today's game, you've got to have two dynamic playmakers."

One factor in Smith's temporary departure from the team, Mavericks sources told The Dallas Morning News, was down to the pair head-butting over the 21-year-old's on-court decision-making.

The larger factor, the same sources said, was Doncic's emergence as the team's best player and facilitator, which relegated Smith to a secondary ball-handling role.

While Carlisle has won more games than any Mavericks coach before him in his 11 seasons, including the 2011 title, he has a reputation for being particularly demanding of point guards. But Cuban refuted that narrative, insisting: "There's never been a coach who hasn't had disagreements with players or issues with players.

"With Rick, not only did we win the championship, he knows what we expect. He knows how we want to get there. And he's a good coach."

A source in Smith's inner circle told The News last week that while he likes the team and his teammates, the Mavericks simply did not appear to be a good basketball fit.

For now, and at least one rollicking night, they did.

DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Smith proves his playmaking worth'. Print Edition | Subscribe