DALLAS – The Mavericks figured out a way to get many more touches for one of the NBA’s most efficient scoring big guys, and benefited greatly from it.
Oh, and Dirk Nowitzki got a lot more looks, too.
Wright got a spot start Friday night and responded by making a major impact in the Mavs’ 104-94 win over the Boston Celtics, leading all scorers with a season-high 23 points and grabbing a season-high-matching eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Nowitzki got his most shots in a week, scoring 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
It’s a mutually beneficial frontcourt pairing on the offensive end. There’s no question that Wright, who attempted a career-high 16 shots from the floor and made all but two of his 10 buckets from within five feet of the hoop, gets great looks because of the attention defenses must pay Nowitzki on the perimeter. And Wright’s success around and above the rim creates more space for Dirk to work in the midrange.
“We play well off each other,” Nowitzki said. “We complement each other pretty well.”
Added Wright, whose 62.2 field goal percentage would rank third in the league if he had enough attempts to qualify: “[Our games] fit perfect together. He’s working the 15-20-foot range and I can work inside of that. When his man is hugging up on him and they’re cheating over with my guy, I can get around the rim and make plays.”
It’s a combination that has had tremendous success in a small sample size this season. The Nowitzki-Wright duo is tied for the second-best plus-minus (plus-87) among Dallas duos, behind only Nowitzki and Vince Carter.
However, coach Rick Carlisle has played Wright with Nowitzki for only 213 minutes this season, according to the NBA’s stats. By comparison, Nowitzki has been paired with Elton Brand for 508 minutes (minus-3), Chris Kaman for 347 minutes (minus-63) and even rookie Bernard James for 128 minutes (minus-7).
This was only the second time this season Wright and Nowitzki started together. The other occurrence was a win over the Houston Rockets earlier this month.
Why not play Wright and Nowitzki together more often? Carlisle is concerned about the slight, 6-foot-10, 210-pound Wright, whose rebounding problems made him a fringe rotation player for much of the season, being overpowered by traditional centers while playing next to Nowitzki.
That wasn’t a concern against the Celtics, who start Kevin Garnett at center and play a lot of smallball.
“It’s his kind of game because there was a lot of small guys out there,” Carlisle said of Wright, who is averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game in March. “That was the reason we started him. He navigates well in an athletic game without a lot of bruisers in it. He played huge for us.”
Added Nowitzki: “When he uses his athleticism, he’s a force for us. This was a game that was right up his alley.”
Those aren’t exactly votes of confidence that Wright can have similar success Sunday against the Utah Jazz’s four-man big rotation, headlined by 6-foot-10, 265-pound Al Jefferson. It’s extremely unlikely that Brand, the Mavs’ best banger, will get a DNP-CD for the second straight game and second time this season.
Wright, however, makes a case that he can be effective against the bruising bigs.
“We’ve got to run,” Wright said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We don’t want to slow it down with those guys and get into a half-court type of game.
“We can expose those guys. We feel like we can attack them. When we get in those type of grinding games, that’s just not our strength as a team, period. If we can get up and down, we’ll be in good shape.”
With the way Wright’s been rolling, maybe he ought to get a chance to prove himself right.