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Dereck Lively II Shows Rookie Growth as Mavs Use 'Chemistry & Trust' to Beat Nuggets

In what ended up being a side note in the Dallas Mavericks' massive win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon, rookie big man Dereck Lively II showed impressive growth and versatility.

DALLAS – Kyrie Irving has been at the center of the sports world spotlight since he hit an unbelievable left-handed floater to lift the Dallas Mavericks over the defending-champion Denver Nuggets at the buzzer on Sunday, and for good reason. It was one of the more unique game-winners in NBA history, which is fitting for a guy who is widely regarded as being the most skilled player ever.

Lost in the madness that followed Irving's heroics was the stellar play of rookie big man Dereck Lively II, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while shooting 7-8 from the field in 23 minutes off the bench. It's not easy to ask a rookie to go toe-to-toe with a champion and MVP player like Nikola Jokic, but Lively held his own and helped the Mavs gut out a big win.


“I have seen a lot of great shots in practice and games, but that one takes the cake. In Kyrie we trust," Lively said of Irving's game-winning shot. "As soon as we give him the ball, we know he’s going to find a great shot or make a great opportunity for someone else. Whenever we see him get the ball, just sit back and watch it happen. No one was expecting him to make that layup, no one was expecting him to make that floater, but he made the shot.”

Lively had several impressive buckets himself, but the most eye-popping of his seven made field goals came with 4:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. With the Mavs up 98-91, Irving grabbed a rebound and initiated a fast break. Lively ran the floor and was rewarded with a pass from Irving. Although Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tried to draw an offensive foul, Lively nimbly euro-stepped past him for a dunk.

Everyone knows Lively is an elite lob threat and rim protector, but he has shown more offensive versatility as this season has progressed, and the Mavs are excited about what the future holds for him. The 7-1 big man has yet to break out the 3-point shooting his showcased during his Pro Day before last year's NBA Draft, but if he ever adds that element to his game – which could allow the Mavs to play both Lively and Gafford at the same time if needed – it could take Dallas to the next level.

The Mavs still have work to do if they're going to climb out of the Play-In Tournament and secure a top-six seed in the Western Conference, but Sunday's win was a big step in the right direction and provided a confidence boost for the entire roster. Lively believes that his team's improved communication on the court has made a big difference.

“We just got to build off it," Lively said. "I feel like our defensive talk is definitely stepping up, and stepping in the right direction. So just to be able to build off it, got to be able to learn from our mistakes and get to the next one. We’re not going to be able to just sit here and be like, ‘Yeah we won a game.’ They’re a great team, but there are other great teams out there.”

Statistically, the Mavs have been toward the bottom of the league when it comes to defense since the All-Star break, but they've shown that they can play defense when they feel like focusing and giving maximum effort for a full 48 minutes. The Nuggets average nearly 115 points per game, so it was a notable accomplishment for Dallas to hold them to 105.

“There were definitely some times we just had to change up what we were doing, changing who was guarding who, moving around how we were guarding things, how we were playing things," Lively said. "Throughout the entire game it was just kind of figuring out what scheme would work at that time, and as soon as it stopped working, we wanted to change it again.”

The Mavs had lost their previous two games against the Nuggets this season, but both of those matchup happened well before Dallas' trade deadline acquisitions of Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington. That added depth, as well as the continued development of Lively and the team's overall chemistry, has put the Mavs in a position to control their own destiny when it comes to securing a playoff spot.

“It comes down to us having chemistry and trusting one another," Lively said. "Being able to trust in switches, being able to trust on having the roll man, having the next man roll over and rotate. Just playing together, for not even that long of a time, but being able to build as much trust as we can.”

Next up, Lively will try to keep his impressive play going against fellow rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama as the Dallas Mavericks take on the San Antonio Spurs for the final time this season. In two previous matchups against the Spurs, Lively averaged 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 76.9 percent from the field.