Playing for the first time in eight days, the Mavericks didn’t take long to answer the rest versus rust question.
They jumped on Memphis early and kept pouncing, especially defensively.
While throttling the Grizzlies 102-92 on Monday night at American Airlines Center, Dallas flashed a trait that it too rarely has shown this season for a team with supposedly upgraded talent: Dominance.
Led by big off-the-bench contributions by Tim Hardaway Jr. (29 points) and Jalen Brunson (19), the Mavericks never trailed and held a double-digit lead for the game’s final 42 minutes.
“I guess those eight days of practice paid off,” said Hardaway, who shot 9-of-14 from the floor. “We just made sure that we stayed locked in over the course of the game.”
When Dallas jumped to a 43-23 advantage midway through the second quarter, it was only the fifth time this season that it had taken as much as a 20-point lead.
Conversely, last season’s Mavericks on 21 occasions led opponents by 20-or-more points.
On this night the Mavericks allowed only 36 first-half points. A Memphis team that leads the NBA in field goal percentage (46.5%) was held to 41% by the Mavericks.
And Dallas did it without Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out with lower-back stiffness. Coach Rick Carlisle said it’s an ailment Porzingis has had on-and-off this season.
The surprising part about this flare-up and game absence is that the Mavericks had not played since Feb. 14, with last week’s icy weather and loss of power and water through much of Texas causing the postponement of two games.
Porzingis has played in 17 of Dallas’ 29 games this season (59%), after playing in 57 of last season’s 75 regular-season games (76%). While grumbling on social media about Porzingis’ latest absence, fans also were quick to note the correlation of Dallas’ improved defense against the Grizzlies.
Porzingis’ 119.5 points-per-100 possessions allowed ranks eighth-worst among individual players league-wide, with Carlisle attributing this season’s slippage to 7-3 Porzingis’ lack of offseason work or training camp while rehabbing from right knee meniscus surgery.
Still, amid growing fan discontentment about Porzingis’ lack of durability, the reality is the Mavericks (14-15) are only 6-6 in games without him. They need a healthy and productive Porzingis to have any realistic chance of turning around this season.
Tuesday’s home game against Boston brings a chance for Dallas to reach .500 for the first time since it fell to 8-8 after a Jan. 23 home loss to Houston — the start of a six-game losing streak.
During last week’s extended period with no games, the Mavericks turned much of their focus in practices to shoring a defense that brought the NBA’s fourth-worst rating (114.6%) into Monday’s game.
The effort with evident early Monday, with Dallas outscoring the Grizzlies 20-0 in first-half fast-break points.
Josh Richardson scored 11 of his 17 points in the opening quarter, during which he also pulled down five rebounds.
This home stand, which started on Feb. 4, ends Tuesday night with a franchise-record-tying eighth game, thanks to the postponement of last Friday’s game at Houston.
The Mavericks are 5-2 thus far.
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