Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is the one that offered up Spencer Dinwiddie before Wednesday night’s game, suggesting the Brooklyn guard was playing like a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Carlisle’s not the first one to say it, but the others haven’t necessarily been regarded as among the league’s most respected coaches, with a reputation for offensive innovation and an NBA title on his resume.
Going into the game, Dinwiddie was leading all NBA players in total assists off the bench while averaging 4.7 game and ranking second in total points off the bench while averaging 14.7 per game. He finished up with 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting despite a tough 1-for-5 night from 3-point range and added seven assists.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves visiting Barclays Center Friday, Dinwiddie has now scored in double figures in all but one of Brooklyn’s first 19 games while coming off the bench in every game.
“He’s accepted it, he’s embraced it, he’s never complained about not starting,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “There’s never been a question. I did think we might have an issue, like, ‘Hey, man, I played really well in preseason, I’ve been great in camp, I want to start.’ There has been none of that. He has accepted his role. I think last year we had some issues with that. In the second half of the season, I didn’t think he embraced it. So, for him to come into the season with that mindset and embrace it, it’s great to hear Rick, a legendary coach, giving him a compliment like that. That’s pretty cool.”
Last season, Dinwiddie notably started 58 of the 80 games he played, making a splash when he moved into a starting role following early-season injuries to Jeremy Lin and then D’Angelo Russell. Upon his return, Russell came off the bench for a month before he and Dinwiddie started nine games together, with Dinwiddie eventually sliding into a reserve role over his last 13 games.
He averaged 10.7 points and 4.9 assists in 26.7 minutes per game over those final 13 games after averaging 13.0 points and 6.9 assists in 29.2 minutes per game in 67 games through March 15.
“I think that was one of the frustrations coming out of last season,” said Atkinson. “Why did Spencer kind of dip? Maybe it was part my fault for not defining his role better. But again, this year, it’s been a total 180. He’s switched his mindset, he’s accepted the role, and he’s played great.”
With the injury to Caris LeVert, Dinwiddie’s role has shifted a bit again. Though he hasn’t moved into the starting lineup, he’s playing more with D’Angelo Russell as a backcourt combination as the Nets have adjusted their rotations. Of the 162 minutes Dinwiddie and Russell have played together in the backcourt this season, 59 of them came in the first four games after LeVert’s injury, going into Wednesday night’s game in Dallas.
“I’ve had just about every role in the league possibly,” said Dinwiddie last week after the LeVert injury. “Whatever they decide to do is what they decide to do. I just take it in stride, try to help the team gets wins in whatever way I can.”
For the second night in a row, Kenny Atkinson played matchup with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, turning to the forward to cool off a hot shooter.
In Miami on Tuesday, Atkinson sent Hollis-Jefferson after Miami’s leading scorer, Josh Richardson, in the fourth quarter, and Richardson scored just two points on free throws in the period as the Nets outscored the Heat 30-15 over the final 12 minutes of their 12-point win.
Against the Mavericks on Wednesday, Atkinson made the move earlier, inserting RHJ with the starting unit to open the second half. Dallas’ Harrison Barnes had scored 18 points in the first half while shooting 6-for-11 and 4-for-6 from 3-point range as the Mavs piled up 61 points on 52.4 percent shooting and took an 11-point lead.
Tasked with Barnes, Hollis-Jefferson played the first eight minutes of the quarter, limiting Barnes to two points during that stretch as the Nets cut the deficit to three points.
“Barnes had 18 points in the first half,” said Atkinson. “Wanted to slow him down. Put (Jared Dudley) with that second unit. I thought it was a good change, and Rondae’s got to do that for us, whether it’s guarding a point guard, 3-man, 4-man, he’s got to be our stopper.”
ED DAVIS SCORES BIG
The Nets don’t ask for a lot of scoring from center Ed Davis, but the veteran has always been efficient with his opportunities, converting a career 56.5 percent field goal percentage.
Wednesday night in Dallas, Davis was perfect from the field, shooting 8-for-8 and scoring a season-high 17 points, the most he’s scored since November 2015. Eleven of those came in the first quarter after Davis entered the game just 90 seconds in once Jarrett Allen collected two quick fouls.
Davis earned his points with three rebound putbacks in the first quarter, turning one of them into a three-point play as he finished the quarter with 11 of Brooklyn’s 32 points. He came through again in the fourth, with another rebound basket to tie the game at 85 and then another paint score that tied the game at 87.
“I was just trying to come in with energy,” said Davis, “trying to help the team, pick up and try and do some of the things that JA does out there.”
ABOUT THE TIMBERWOLVES
The Timberwolves and the Nets crossed paths less than two weeks ago at pivotal moments for both teams. Minnesota was in the process of completing its trade of Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, and neither Butler nor new acquisitions Robert Covington and Dario Saric played in that 120-113 Minnesota win. The Nets, meanwhile, lost Caris LeVert to a foot injury right before halftime of that game. Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 21 rebounds for Minnesota that night, and leads the Timberwolves with 20.0 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Covington and Saric made their Minnesota debuts two nights later, with Covington moving into the starting lineup and Saric coming off the bench. Minnesota is 7-11 after Wednesday night’s 103-101 loss to Denver.