Ben Simmons couldn’t recall winning a game from the free throw line at any level before Thursday night.
Still, the rookie stepped to the line with the confidence of a veteran.
“First of all, we needed a steal,” Simmons said. “I saw Joel get it and he kind of lobbed it to me.”
Portis had a chance for a game winner, but his short attempt — with Embiid closing from the weak side — just missed.
In May, Cuban said the Mavericks looked to lose as much as they could at the end of last season once the team was out of postseason contention. Dallas finished with the ninth-worst record in the NBA and didn’t improve its draft position through the lottery.
The Mavericks (18-40) have the third-worst record in the NBA but are among a logjam of seven teams with fewer than 20 wins. The team with the worst record will have a 25 percent chance of making the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.
Starting with the 2019 draft, the three teams with the worst records will share a 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick, lessening the incentive to lose at the end of the season.
Hornacek choosing to start the 21-year-old Mudiay rather than Ntilikina is perhaps an indication that the coaching staff doesn’t believe Ntilikina is ready to handle a starter’s role.
Hornacek said Wednesday that Ntilikina, 19, had felt knee pain in recent weeks as his body grew accustomed to the NBA schedule. The coach also said Ntilikina felt significant fatigue at times recently, which is common for a rookie.
They also believe Burke, 25, can play both guard spots alongside Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, and Mudiay. Hornacek said Tuesday that he may change his lineups occasionally to see which groupings thrive together.
In addition to the young guards, wings Damyean Dotson and Troy Williams and big men Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks will likely play more often in coming games.