DALLAS -- "Welcome to the Future," read the slogan on the blue T-shirts waiting for fans at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night.
The Dallas Mavericks certainly envision their home opener as a sign of things to come for a franchise that is preparing for the post-Dirk era.
Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavs' prized recent lottery picks, recovered from a rough start to star in a 140-136 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in front of a rowdy sellout crowd. They did so playing a fast-paced, 3-point-firing style that is sweeping through the NBA -- and suits the Mavs' young core.
"It was only one game, but that was fun," Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. "We wanted Dennis and Luka to take steps forward. Dennis has gotten better. Luka is still finding his way, but what a way to find your way. It was impressive."
It was ugly early for Doncic, the No. 3 overall pick making his NBA home debut. He went scoreless in the first quarter, hoisting an air ball among his three missed shots and committing a couple of turnovers. He didn't exactly make up for it on the defensive end, either, as Minnesota (minus resting, disgruntled star Jimmy Butler) put up 46 points, matching the most the Mavs have ever allowed in a first quarter.
But Doncic, the 19-year-old former Euroleague MVP the Mavs are hoping can take the torch from injured 21-year vet Dirk Nowitzki as the face of the franchise, got rolling midway through the second quarter. He finally got on the board with an and-1 floater with 6:41 remaining in the half. He followed that up with 3s on back-to-back possessions, and suddenly he had a scoring binge of 15 points in just over five minutes.
"Luka, after a disappointing start, got himself into the game with aggression," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He was making plays on both ends."
Doncic finished with 26 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. The list of teens to put up that kind of line, per Basketball-Reference.com data: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Lamar Odom, Clifford Robinson and now Doncic, who fully expects to experience that kind of success during his rookie season.
"I've played this basketball for a long time," said Doncic, who made his pro debut for Real Madrid at age 15. "I've been professional. I had to grow up there, so I was ready for the game here. I mean, the game for sure is more physical. You have a lot more physical guys that can guard you, but at the end of the day, it's just basketball."
Doncic doesn't fear taking big shots, as he showed in crunch time, when he made a couple of tough, off-dribble fadeaways on consecutive possessions to push the Mavs' lead to five with 2:09 remaining. But it was Smith, the second-year guard the Mavs plan to have as Doncic's running mate for the next generation, who served as the closer.
Smith scored seven of his 19 points in the final 1:27, highlighted by a tie-breaking, stepback 21-footer despite being fouled by Derrick Rose with 6.1 seconds remaining.
"I knew I was going to shoot it," said Smith, who had six assists and only one turnover. "Before [Carlisle] called the play or whatever, I just knew I was going to keep it and shoot it. That's just something I've been doing for a long time. I believe just the mentality of wanting that shot and having the ability to take it and create space, it will translate into some makes, just like it did tonight."
Smith drills game-winning jumper
With the game tied in the final seconds, Dennis Smith Jr. hits a pull-up jumper to put Dallas up for good.
That shot was actually an exception for the Mavs: a jumper that wasn't behind the 3-point line. Dallas set a franchise record by firing 50 3s (making 17) and got the vast majority of their other buckets in the lane, with big men DeAndre Jordan (22 points, 8-of-10 shooting, 10 rebounds) and Dwight Powell (19 points, 6-of-7 shooting, six rebounds) dominating above the rim.
That's how the Mavs managed to beat a Minnesota team that scored 136 points, the most in a regulation loss since Dallas put up 141 against the Warriors on Jan. 18, 1992, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
"I'm sure Dick Harter is turning over in his grave right now," said Carlisle, referring to the defensive guru he worked with early in his coaching career. "This is a new age of basketball."
And it's a new era for the Mavs.