It’s been an interesting opening few weeks of the 2017-18 season.
The Boston Celtics have strung together five straight wins following an 0-2 start, after losing prized acquisition Gordon Hayward for the year just six minutes into their season opener. The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are off to surprising starts. Giannis Antetokounmpo has stormed to the front of MVP talk. All the while, traditional heavyweights like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have looked uncharacteristically mortal.
Which teams have been the most surprising and disappointing? Which rookie has looked the best so far? And is anyone else on the Greek Freak’s level right now?
Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook will square off with Antetokounmpo when the Milwaukee Bucks host the Oklahoma City Thunder at 8 p.m. Tuesday night.
The Dallas Mavericks have a 1-6 record, and on Sunday, head coach Rick Carlisle discussed the possibility of adjusting his lineup.
“We’re looking at things all the time,” Carlisle told The Dallas Morning News. “If you’re asking about a change to the starting lineup or rotation, any and everything is in play at this point.”
Three of the six losses have been home setbacks to Atlanta, Sacramento and Philadelphia. Those have to be disappointing for Carlisle, with the Hawks and Kings expected to be near the bottom of the standings this season. Most NBA experts also see the Mavericks heading to a high lottery pick in 2018.
“We feel like we should have won at least three more,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “And now we’re sitting here 1-6. We feel like we let a bunch slip away.”
Another win might not come for a while with the Mavericks set to play the Jazz, Clippers, Pelicans, Timberwolves (twice), Wizards, Cavaliers, Thunder, Spurs and Bucks over the next 10 games.
Smith waved his arms, motioning for the crowd to cheer, while on his way to the bench during a timeout after drilling a cold-blooded 3-pointer to give the Dallas Mavericks a 13-point lead with 4:31 remaining. But he remained stone-faced, certainly not looking like a teenager who had the first win of his NBA career in reach, aside from the thin whiskers in his attempt at a mustache.
It’s not as if Smith was surprised by the moment or anything else about his efficient 19-point, five-assist, one-turnover performance in the Mavs’ 103-94 victory Wednesday night over the previously unbeaten Memphis Grizzlies.
“I do expect it,” Smith said, wearing his purple-and-pink “The Princess and the Frog” backpack. “I’m just playing basketball. I’ve been doing it since I was 6. It’s the highest level now, but I’ve worked to be on this level. I deserve this opportunity, and now I’ve got to own that and earn my keep.”
That mentality brings a smile to the face of a certain graybeard who still remembers what it was like to be a wide-eyed rookie.
“He’s a confident young man,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who admittedly was not during his first NBA season two decades ago. “He knows that he’s good. He knows the sky is the limit. As long as you’re confident and you’re humble about it — which he’s shown, he’s shown that he’s ready to work and listen — I think he’s going to be great.”
Smith, the No. 9 overall pick the Mavs hope develops into the next face of the franchise, has the kind of athleticism that causes crowds to gasp. There aren’t too many point guards who can blow by a defender in the halfcourt and finish with a two-handed dunk, as Smith did during the second quarter.
But the poise and patience Smith, who was 8-of-12 from the floor in the win, shows as a 19-year-old rookie are attributes that are almost as rare. He makes the extra pass when appropriate — such as when he passed up a decent look to hit Wesley Matthews for a wide-open corner 3 to push Dallas’ lead back to double digits midway through the fourth quarter. Smith doesn’t feel the need to hunt for shots or force the action. He attempted only four field goals in the first half and then pounced when he found seams in the third quarter, when Smith scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting.
“He’s got a very mature game,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has a reputation for being tough on point guards, but he hasn’t hesitated to put responsibilities on Smith’s plate. He’s not worried about the rookie being overwhelmed. Smith earns trust by consistently making smart decisions.
“He’s a pretty calm person by nature,” Carlisle said. “He’s very confident. He processes things and has a good sense of just how long five or six seconds is at the end of the clock. He understands that the defense will break down in a split second and he’s got the quickness to get by people. Some of the things he’s doing to generate baskets, fouls or shots for guys is a dimension we’ve never had on this team.”
Smith’s explosiveness will get him SportsCenter time. His savvy is what earns the respect of the league’s premier point guards.
“Super-athletic guard that knows how to play the game,” said Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who has known the fellow North Carolina native since Smith was in high school. “I think that’s the most underrated aspect of his game, just the way he sees the floor, the way he tries to get his teammates involved. And he can shoot it. A lot of people fall in love with the way he can high-fly and play above the rim at times, just his explosiveness, but the thing that’s going to help him be a long-lasting pro and probably an All-Star one day in this league is his ability to play that five-man basketball and get other guys involved and use his strengths to open up looks for other teammates.”
Curry offered that scouting report before the Warriors blew out the Mavs on Monday night. Smith experienced some growing pains in that game, finishing with 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting and only one assist. His confidence clearly wasn’t shaken, however, as evidenced by his bounce-back performance against another of the West’s best point guards.
“I love his game,” Memphis’ Mike Conley said. “He plays with a great pace, very patient. He’s going to be something special in the league. They’ve got a good one.”
Green barked words to that effect when Smith attempted to dunk on the reigning Defensive Player of the Year late in the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ 133-103 win Monday night. Smith settled for a trip to the free throw line after a hard foul from Green.
“Yeah, that s— ain’t happening,” Green said after the game. “This ain’t summer league, bro. Not just gonna dunk on nobody. Better luck next time.
“Never. That ain’t happening. Come on, dude.”
Smith, a lottery pick who possesses a 48-inch vertical leap and a lot of confidence, drove the baseline before trying to soar over Green for a slam. Smith briefly exchanged words with Green before going to the free throw line.
Smith considered Green’s trash talk nonsensical.
“I don’t know what he was talking about,” said Smith, who had a rough night, recording 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting and only one assist in his second career game. “He can’t say nothing. He fouled me. It doesn’t even make sense.
“I was just laughing at him. He’s rambling on about nothing. It ain’t like he blocked it. He’s just rambling, and I laughed at him.”
Smith said he didn’t know if Green was trying to intimidate him or give him some sort of rookie initiation. But Smith wasn’t about to wilt when Green verbally confronted him.
“I’m not doing it just to let people know I’m not backing down,” said Smith, who missed the previous two games with swelling in his left knee. “I’m just not backing down from nobody. That’s just how I am. All that extra stuff, I don’t really dabble with all that. That’s about it. I just handle myself accordingly.”
Smith praised Green as a player but scoffed when told of Green’s declaration that the Mavs rookie would never dunk on him.
DALLAS — Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry attempted to encourage and inspire Mavericks guard Devin Harris‘ nephew in the wake of the death of the boy’s father last week.
Curry talked with Harris and his nephew, 9-year-old Brayden, in the midcourt tunnel at the American Airlines Center before Monday’s game against the Mavericks. Bruce Harris, Devin’s 38-year-old brother, died Thursday afternoon due to injuries suffered in a car accident early that morning.
Mavs’ Harris on leave after brother’s death
Mavericks guard Devin Harris has been granted a leave of absence after his brother was killed in a car crash Thursday afternoon.
“It’s obviously hard to find the right words to say in that situation because it’s such a tough blow to the family,” said Curry, who hugged Brayden as they talked. “At that age, I can’t imagine what he’s going through, but the best thing I could say is just to lean on his family to give him that strength in this tough time. Nobody could tell [him] how to feel to allow himself to get through this the best that he can, but with his family at his side and leaning on them for strength and for love, hopefully they’ll be there for him. That’s the best I can tell.”
The meeting was set up by Curry’s brother, Seth, a Mavericks guard, and Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, a longtime friend of Harris’. Stephen Curry, Brayden’s favorite player, also autographed several items for the boy.
Harris, 34, has not played since his brother’s death and remains on indefinite leave from the Mavs. On Monday, he made his first trip to the American Airlines Center since Thursday’s accident in part to help try to get his nephew’s mind off the tragedy. Harris watched the Mavs-Warriors game with his nephew in the stands.
“I lost my brother tragically and it’s been a tough week,” Harris told reporters in the Mavs’ locker room before the game, his nephew at his side. “The family is taking it pretty hard, as you would expect them to. Probably the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with, dealing with myself, trying to explain it to his kids, my kids. It’s just been tough.”
DALLAS — Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready, to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
A Dallas police statement said 38-year-old Bruce Harris died Thursday afternoon from injuries suffered in a crash. Police say Harris and another man were in a disabled vehicle when a car driven by a 23-year-old man slammed into it from behind. The car with Bruce Harris inside caught fire.
Devin Harris didn’t practice on Thursday and wasn’t with the team for the Mavericks’ 93-88 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday.
Mavericks teammate J.J. Barea visited with Harris’ family on Thursday. Barea and Harris have been teammates since 2006.