Thunder still stinging from loss as Mavs come to OKC (Dec 31, 2017)
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Saturday morning, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle huddled with rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
Carlisle felt like the meeting was an important one, just a few hours after Smith became the third-youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in the Mavericks' 128-120 win over New Orleans.
"The number of events that happen that involved him both offensively and defensively, and learning how all those little things impact our entire team is a really important thing to get," Carlisle said.
Smith and the Mavericks close out the year with a game at Oklahoma City on Sunday night.
After not winning back-to-back games until late November, the Mavericks have been much more consistent since.
Dallas has won three consecutive games for the first time all season, playing teams that are all in playoff position - at home against Toronto and at Indiana and New Orleans.
Smith is a big reason for the Mavericks' recent success, even when he hasn't been putting up big statistical nights.
So Carlisle wanted to make sure things didn't get off track for Smith after his big night, in which he finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
"Loud statistical games can scream out the wrong messages from time to time," Carlisle said. "I just want him to learn about all the nuances of being a great leader and being a guy that can affect winning in so many infinite ways on a basketball court."
For Oklahoma City, the Thunder will try to bounce back from having its six-game winning streak snapped in a controversial home loss to Milwaukee on Friday night.
On Saturday, the NBA confirmed that Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds just before his game-winning dunk over Russell Westbrook.
It's the second time this season Oklahoma City has lost on a last-second play that should've been wiped out.
On Oct. 22, the Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on a play the NBA later said should've resulted in an illegal screen call on Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Thunder will have to do it without the player who figured to be locked-in on Smith most of the time and another of their best defenders.
Andre Roberson, one of the best defenders in the NBA, will miss the game with left knee tendinitis.
Paul George will miss his second consecutive game with left knee soreness.
It could be a difficult assignment for a defense that's fourth in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions to succeed without two of their better defenders.
But the Thunder still believe they're coming together on the offensive end, especially as Carmelo Anthony has accepted a different role after the Thunder stagnated on the offensive end for much of the first part of the season.
"I think now after getting through that period, it's starting to all come together," Anthony said. "Not just so much on the court, but all the work we put in in the offseason, in training camp, and every day that we come in here and work. Guys are starting to feel better. This is that time of the season where you have a month and a half, two months under your belt and now we're starting to take it to another level."