Spencer Dinwiddie looked a little puzzled at first over a question after a recent game about what changed when his scoreless first quarter was followed by 11 points in the second.
Once the Dallas guard had clarity, he flashed a quick smile. The answer was easy. Luka Doncic scored 16 points in that first quarter.
“Oh, Luka was on a heater,” Dinwiddie said. “You get out of the man's way.”
New to the Mavericks after a trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Wizards, Dinwiddie didn't need any time to figure out that part of the formula for a franchise with the 23-year-old Doncic shining as the brightest star — by far.
Dinwiddie says he also had no trouble understanding the more complicated dynamics that come with trying to find his way in a new locker room. The eight-year veteran was stung by reports suggesting he was a problem in his old one.
His effort to prove otherwise is boosting the playoff-bound Mavericks, who play at Minnesota on Friday night.
“He’s been very receptive to coaching and to his teammates, and they trust him,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “That’s one of the hardest things is, how fast will the trust take place? I think you can see the trust is at a very high level when he’s on the floor.”
Dinwiddie signed a $54 million, three-year contract with the Wizards in the offseason despite his final season in Brooklyn ending after just three games because of a torn ACL in his right knee.
Washington started quickly, but faded almost as fast — and Dinwiddie's production did the same. After the deal with Dallas came together a few hours before the Feb. 10 trading deadline, first-year Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. described his brief time with Dinwiddie as “one of those things that you could say it didn't work.”
Other reports weren't so kind, some suggesting his teammates didn't want to play with him.
“I think that's what hurt the most,” Dinwiddie said. "When the role changed and they wanted me to pass more, I did that. I took my foot off the gas scoring-wise because that's what the team felt like they needed.
“To kind of get kicked out the door was a wild feeling. I hadn’t really experienced that before. I still have nothing ill to say other than, yes, it hurt my feelings. Just like anything else, you become cautiously optimistic about your new situation.”
Seven games into that new situation, Dinwiddie drew his first start when Doncic rested a sore foot. He scored a season-high 36 points in a 114-113 win over Sacramento.
Dinwiddie finished with 23 points in the game that included the scoreless first quarter, a crucial 111-103 victory over Utah.
When Doncic rested again Wednesday night, this time because of a sore ankle, Dinwiddie had his own heater. He scored 19 points in the first 16-plus minutes of a 110-91 win over Houston that pulled Dallas even with Utah for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Among the nine games remaining for the Mavericks and Jazz is their final meeting of the regular season Sunday in Dallas. Utah holds the tiebreaker, and is in good shape to keep it even if the Mavericks win to split the four-game series.
Still, the Mavericks have a chance to go 2-0 against the Jazz since Dinwiddie arrived. The cautious optimism has turned to joy — something Dinwiddie expressed with in-person thanks to new general manager Nico Harrison moments after hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a 113-111 victory at Brooklyn, where his career blossomed two years ago.
“You still just kind of approach the situation with kid gloves, see what’s going on,” Dinwiddie said of the days after the trade. “Everything that’s been said to me so far has been authentic and everybody has bought into doing what they need to do to win. They encouraged me to be aggressive.”
Dinwiddie is averaging 18.2 points per game with Dallas, almost six more than with the Wizards. He's shooting 50% overall and 41% from 3-point range, compared to 38% and 31% in Washington. Dallas is 12-3 in games he has played.
“He didn’t really talk about there,” backcourt mate Jalen Brunson said. “As soon as he came here, he just kind of talked about he just wanted to help us win. That was on his mind. That was what was most important. And he’s doing it.”
And he understands it's Doncic first and everything else second — except when Doncic isn't playing.
“When I’m with him, it’s about being ready to shoot, being ready to catch and go and restart the blender as he kind of collapses the defense,” Dinwiddie said. “When he’s out, it’s kind of on me to start the blender.”
And maybe go on a heater.