Rookies take spotlight in Mavericks-Hawks game
ATLANTA — A pair of first-round picks have been critical for the reconstruction efforts in Atlanta and Dallas.
One of the bright spots in the Atlanta Hawks’ dismal season has been the progress of rookie John Collins. Likewise, Dennis Smith Jr. has played his way into the Dallas lineup in a significant way.
On Saturday, the rookies will be on the floor together as the Hawks host the Mavericks in a game that features the teams with the worst records in the NBA. The Hawks (7-25) are last in the Eastern Conference and the Mavericks (9-24) are last in the West.
Collins, a 6-foot-10 forward from Wake Forest, was the 19th overall pick of the draft. He averages 11.4 points and scored 16 on Friday night.
“There are a couple times on the court when I think I should have done this or done that,” Collins said. “I want the learning experience. Coach wants me to go out there and play with a lot of confidence, so I try to do that. It’s my rookie year and we’re only about 30 games in, so we have a whole season left to go.”
Collins missed six games with a sprained left AC joint, but has recovered nicely from the injury. He scored 18 points and had nine rebounds Wednesday against Indiana, just missing his fifth double-double of the season.
Smith, a 6-3 guard, stayed only one season at N.C. State before becoming the No. 9 pick in the draft. He averages 14.4 points, second-best on the club. Smith returned Wednesday after missing six games win a left hip strain and scored 15 points to spark a win over Detroit.
“When he came back in the second quarter, his stretch was the decisive stretch of the game,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It got our crowd into it, energized the team. Nobody else on our team can make those plays like he can.”
Atlanta dropped a 120-117 decision at Oklahoma City on Friday and has lost two straight and six of their last seven. The Hawks have yet to win back-to-back games this season. Atlanta got 27 points from Marco Belinelli and 22 from Ersan Ilyasova, but lost when Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook hit a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left.
Atlanta played without point guard Dennis Schroder, who missed the game with an ankle injury. His status for Saturday has not been determined.
“We have to learn how to win games,” Atlanta guard Malcolm Delaney said. “We need to get one solid winning streak and I think it will turn some things around. But we can’t consistently get wins, so it’s tough.”
The Mavericks are coming off a 113-101 loss at Miami on Friday. The Mavericks have lost four of their last five games.
This is the final meeting this season. Atlanta prevailed 117-111 in the season opener on Oct. 18 in Dallas. Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder scored 28 points and Marco Belinelli added 20 in the win. Seven Mavericks were in double figures, with Smith and Nerlens Noel leading the way with 16 points each.