Jonas Valanciunas’ career-best 3-point shooting reminded his New Orleans Pelicans teammates of Dirk Nowitzki.
The struggling Dallas Mavericks are in need of some Nowitzki-like long-range shooting as they visit the improving Pelicans on Wednesday night.
“The guys were calling him ‘Dirk Valanciunas,'” Pelicans coach Willie Green said with a smile after the 6-foot-11 center made 7-of-8 three-pointers while scoring a career-best 39 points in a 123-104 victory against the Clippers on Monday night in Los Angeles.
Valanciunas, who set a career-high in 3-pointers midway through the second quarter, wasn’t ready to compare himself to Nowitzki, the former Mavericks’ sharp-shooting 7-footer who retired two years ago.
“Everybody wants to be him,” Valanciunas said. “He’s one of the greatest big guys in the game, but I’ve still got to work a lot to be like him.”
The Pelicans still have a lot of work to do, but they are getting better even without Zion Williamson. Their second victory against the Clippers in 11 days gave them a 2-1 record on a Western road trip. They have won three of four games after winning just three of their first 19.
Valanciunas has taken on a bigger role that anticipated in his first season with New Orleans because of Williamson’s absence due to offseason foot surgery and Brandon Ingram missing seven games because of a hip injury.
“He changed the game for us,” Ingram said of Valanciunas, who added 15 rebounds. “He came out with a lot of energy and looked like he played loose. He was the head of the snake of everything we did.”
The Mavericks, on the other hand, have lost five of their last six games after a 114-96 home loss to Cleveland on Monday night in which they trailed by as many as 31 points.
Luka Doncic had his second triple-double of the season — 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — and made seven of 11 3-pointers. But his teammates shot a combined five of 28 on 3-pointers.
“We had a lot of open shots,” said Doncic, who was 2-of-10 on 2-pointers. “We’ve got to stick together. This is what real teams do — in tough times they stick together. It’s easy to stay together when it’s all good. The tough times, that’s when you got to stay together.”
Dallas allowed Cleveland to shoot a season-best 56.3 percent from the floor and the Mavericks got outrebounded by 15 after finishing with a season-low 33 boards.
“When we don’t make shots, we tend to feel bad or feel sorry for ourselves,” coach Jason Kidd said. “The opposing team is not going to wait for us to get back on defense. Our transition defense has stunk here of late because we’re not making shots.
“We’ve got to continue to trust. Luka could easily not pass it to anyone because no one’s making shots. And so, he has to continue to trust and make the right basketball play. He had a triple-double, which is an incredible feat in itself when we can’t make shots.”