Mavericks Look to Avoid Another Irving Eruption

BOSTON – Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle believes Kyrie Irving is a “legitimate MVP candidate” this season. It’s easy to understand his perspective, considering that his team allowed the Celtics point guard to erupt for a season-high 47 points when the two teams last faced off 16 days ago.

Dallas will get another crack at Irving Wednesday night at TD Garden, but Carlislie says the Mavs have to change “almost everything” when it comes to their approach against the four-time All-Star.

“He did virtually anything he wanted,” Carlisle recalled of the Nov. 20 matchup following Mavericks shootaround Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve gotta give more resistance and make it tougher on him. When one guy goes for 47 points, it’s going to be hard to beat that team.”

Irving was unstoppable during the last matchup, as he helped the Celtics overcome a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit for a 110-102 overtime win. He shot an incredible 16-of-22 from the field, after 9-for-9 start.

“I think the first shot he missed was a fling at halftime,” said Carlisle. “He took a 60-foot shot and I was a little surprised that didn’t go in the way he was going.”

The defeat dropped Dallas’ record to 3-15, which was the worst win-loss mark in the league at the time. However, the Mavs have turned a corner since that game, having gone 4-2 over the last two weeks.

Carlisle has been pleased to see Dallas put together more complete efforts, as it has knocked off a few reputable foes including the Grizzlies, Thunder, Clippers and Nuggets.

“We’ve been defending more consistently,” said Carlisle. “We’ve been doing a good job with ball security. And we’ve had some good shot-making. A lot of the game comes down to those three things.”

Tonight’s game will come down to a fourth: stopping Irving.

That task will be placed on the shoulders of rookie Dennis Smith Jr. The 20-year-old point guard clearly did not have great fortune handling that task last time around, but Carlisle has seen great growth from the No. 9 overall draft pick of late.

“He’s been terrific,” said Carlisle. “He’s learned a lot in a six-week period of time, and in the next six weeks he’ll learn even more as we play teams for the second, third time.”

Smith had an all-around off night during the last matchup against Boston, scoring just eight points on 4-of-16 shooting. But he’s been on a tear ever since, reaching double-digits in scoring during each of the last six contests while averaging 15.5 points per game.

This time around, Smith will look to put up more of a fight against Irving on both sides of the ball. By the same token, Carlisle says the rookie will not be working alone when it comes to defending his superstar counterpart.

“Of course you want to make [Irving] work, and we’ll do things to try to get everyone involved,” said Carlisle. “But, hey, it’s a tough task when you’ve got a guy this good. It’s a five-man responsibility (for us) defensively, reading situations, trying to make it tough on him."