LAS VEGAS — Looking to build on Saturday’s impressive 91-75 victory over Chicago in the Las Vegas summer-league opener, the Dallas Mavericks stepped back into the Thomas & Mack Center just 24 hours later with hopes of remaining unbeaten in the preliminary stage of the 10-day tournament.
Taking on the Phoenix Suns, the Mavericks tried to stay on the winning track Sunday in their second summer-league outing. The Mavs also hoped first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. could build on his impressive summer-league debut after tallying 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Saturday’s win. And with Smith continuing to show why he was a coveted player in last month’s NBA Draft following a 25-point explosion, the Mavericks (2-0) scratched and clawed their way to an 88-77 victory.
“[Smith] did a very good job,” Mavs summer-league head coach Jamahl Mosley said of the rookie’s performance. “He’s starting to recognize the way defenses are playing. Defensively, he was doing some pretty good things. So, like I said, I think as games are going on he’s just continuing to get better.”
Sticking with a starting lineup of Smith, second-year standout Yogi Ferrell, Argentine swingman Nicolas Brussino, versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith and undersized center Brandon Ashley, the Mavericks tried to come out aggressively for the second straight game. The Mavs also hoped Ashley could continue to give the team a lift inside after a 21-point performance during Saturday’s win.
But thanks to Smith’s dazzling finishes around the rim, the Mavericks would find themselves with an early advantage following an 8-3 run to start the game. Josh Adams’ personal 5-0 run off the bench pushed the Dallas lead to double digits at 21-11 shortly after that. And with the duo of Smith and Adams combining to score 15 points in the opening quarter, the Mavericks took a 30-18 advantage into the second stanza.
Receiving a boost from big man Ding Yanyuhang off the bench, the Mavericks continued to keep their foot on the gas in the second period. A three-pointer by reserve guard Corey Webster took matters from there, giving the Mavs a 38-24 lead early in the quarter.
The margin spread to 19 after a timely three-pointer by Smith to up the lead to 43-24 midway through the period. Another triple from Smith followed a short time later as the Mavericks tried to keep the Suns (1-1) at bay. Smith’s 15-point half then lifted the Mavs into the intermission with a 50-36 lead under their belt.
Led by Smith’s 5-of-8 shooting, the Mavericks’ 43.9 percent from the field as a team bettered the Suns’ 32.4 percent at the other end in the half. The Mavs also held a 25-20 rebounding edge, converting the Suns’ 10 turnovers into 14 points through two quarters.
After a driving score by Smith opened the second half, Ashley jumped into the act with a three of his own to push the lead back to 19. Ferrell collected a steal and scored in transition at the other end a short time later as the lead swelled to 22. But No. 4 overall draft pick Josh Jackson would lead the Suns on a mini run to close the quarter. And despite a lopsided lead, the Mavs took only a 69-55 advantage into the fourth.
Seeing their lead continue to shrunk as the final quarter got underway, the Mavericks put the ball back in the hands of Smith to settle their stagnant attack. Smith also stepped it up at the defensive end of the floor, adding to his steals total to quiet the Suns’ comeback attempt.
The rookie guard’s timely corner three-pointer gave the Mavs an 82-66 lead from there as the clock continued to wind down. And with his team up 84-66, Smith headed to the bench as Mosley finished off the win with the Dallas reserves.
Scoring 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, Smith filled up the stat sheet for the second straight game with eight rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block to overshadow five turnovers in 27 minutes of work. Ashley was the only other Mav in double figures with 12 points in the first unit.
“I just take whatever is there. It was there today. You know, it wasn’t there yesterday,” Smith matter-of-factly said of his performance. “I’m learning the rotations in the defense. I’ve got two games down now, and I’ve just got to keep everything sound.
“I’m learning how to play NBA defense,” he added. “Like I said, it’s going to be steps. I got four steals today. I didn’t have as many yesterday, so I’m just making progress.”
Mike James led five Suns in double figures with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting. However, the Mavericks outshot the Suns for the game, 38.7 percent to 35.6 percent, overcoming Phoenix’s 46-40 rebounding edge with 26 points off the Suns’ 25 turnovers.
“I liked where we were,” Mosley said of the defensive execution. “We were aggressive. We fouled a little bit too much early. Our feet weren’t moving. We were playing with reaching and grabbing versus being in position. But once we settled down, that’s when it kind of turned the game around.”
The Mavericks will now return to action Tuesday against the Miami Heat. That game will air nationally on NBA TV and locally on TXA 21 at 7 p.m. CT.