LAS VEGAS — After holding a brief minicamp in Dallas prior to heading to the NBA’s annual Las Vegas summer league, the Mavericks hoped to begin the 10-day tournament with a dominant performance Saturday against the Chicago Bulls.
Trying to carry over the momentum after Dallas captured the Orlando summer-league title just days before, the young Mavericks traveled to Las Vegas with a goal of seizing another championship. The Mavs also hoped to draw inspiration from the summer-league debut of first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr., who was selected by Dallas with the No. 9 overall selection in last month’s NBA Draft. Smith’s impressive debut and a second-half surge led by big man Brandon Ashley then helped the Mavericks (1-0) cruise to a runaway 91-75 victory.
“I really liked what [Smith] did,” Mavs summer-league head coach Jamahl Mosley said after the win. “The thing that really impressed me the most is that he learned as the game went on. There were a couple of things during the game that he was trying to adjust to. He took his time, figured out a little bit and adjusted on the fly, and that’s the mark of a very good player.”
Using a starting lineup of Smith, second-year standout Yogi Ferrell, Argentine swingman Nicolas Brussino, versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith and the undersized Ashley at center, the young Mavericks tried to get out of the gates quickly. Brussino would then get the Mavs going in the right direction, opening the scoring with a corner three-pointer.
Smith took matters from there, finding a cutting Brussino for a slam before converting an and-one score in transition to put the Mavericks up 10-9 with 5:56 left in the opening quarter. Still, despite Smith’s eight points in the period, the Mavs trailed 21-19 after 10 minutes of play behind Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen’s nine points and five rebounds in the first quarter.
Hoping to stage a rally after falling behind by six early in the second stanza, the Mavericks turned to Ashley for a spark at the offensive end of the floor. The versatile big man then began to put the Dallas offense on his back, moving into double figures in the process.
However, after building a slight edge, the Mavs would quickly find themselves in a dogfight as the Bulls (0-1) charged back. And despite 18 points combined from the duo of Ashley and Smith, the Mavericks trailed 43-38 entering the intermission.
Led by Ashley’s 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, the Mavericks stayed in the game while being outshot through two quarters, 50 percent to 34.2 percent. The Bulls also held a 20-17 rebounding edge, overcoming eight first-half turnovers.
After a driving score by Smith, the Mavericks found themselves on top again following back-to-back threes from Ferrell and Brussino early in the third period. Ferrell stayed on the attack from there to join Ashley and Smith in double figures, swishing a three from the wing as the two teams exchanged haymakers in the quarter.
The Mavs threatened to separate from there with a lift from former Baylor standout Johnathan Motley inside. And after Ferrell’s four-point play gave the Mavericks a 61-54 advantage, the Dallas team surged into the fourth with a 66-60 lead under its belt.
Upping their aggression on defense to start the fourth quarter, the Mavericks once again put the ball in the hands of Ashley on the offensive end. Ashley also once again showed he was ready for the opportunity, spinning down low for a score as the Mavs built a double-digit lead.
Smith slid back into the scoring shortly after that, driving the lane with ease to force a Chicago timeout after the Mavericks surged to a 78-64 lead with 6:38 remaining. But it would be Ashley’s back-to-back scores that gave the Mavs an 82-66 advantage. The Mavs reserves put the finishing touches on the win from there as Mosley sat his top contributors.
Scoring 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, Ashley led the Mavericks to the win. Ferrell pitched in 14 points in the starting lineup, and Smith filled up the stat sheet with 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes.
“I was solid,” Smith said of his performance. “You know, there were things that I could have done better and knocked down a couple more shots, but I did a good job of getting my teammates involved and keeping energy up.”
“I think I showed my versatility,” Ashley added. “The fact that I’m a smaller guy, I’m probably not going to play a whole lot of five at the NBA level. But I was just able to play multiple positions, knock down open shots and affect the game in different ways.”
Markkanen led six Bulls in double figures with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, pulling down eight rebounds to boot. But the Mavericks outshot the Bulls for the game, 46.5 percent to 39.4 percent, adding a 37-34 rebounding edge and forcing 14 Chicago turnovers.
The Mavericks will now return to action Sunday against the Phoenix Suns. That game will air nationally on ESPN and locally on TXA 21 at 3:30 p.m. CT.