In the context of the marathon-like NBA schedule, 23 days is not a particularly long period. But, to the Dallas Mavericks, that amount of time had to feel like an eternity as they likely counted down the days until superstar guard Luka Doncic made his return from the first extended absence of his NBA career.
That night finally came for the Mavericks on Sunday when Doncic did, well, things that only Doncic can do to lead Dallas to a 95-86 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The superstar point guard needed just 31 minutes to compile 14 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds — one board shy of his 39th career triple-double — in a win that evened the Mavericks record at 18-18.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has long known that Doncic is a generational type of player, and the do-everything guard showed that yet again on Sunday. Driving to the right of the lane to attract the attention of four defenders, Doncic flipped a behind-the-back, no-look pass out to the 3-point line where teammate Maxi Kleber was all alone. Kleber hit the 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining to ice the game.
Despite his extended absence and his lagging conditioning, Luka Doncic still left his fingerprints all over Sunday’s win
Out for five games because of a left ankle injury and another five games after being in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Luka Doncic hadn’t been involved in 5-on-5 work in more than three weeks before Sunday’s game. However, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it, considering some of the high-degree-of-difficulty plays the Dallas Mavericks star pulled off against the Thunder.
One such play came when Doncic sped up the floor on a fastbreak, stopped on the proverbial dime, stepped back, and let fly a high-arching 3-pointer that found nothing but net. You certainly couldn’t tell it from the way he played, but Doncic said in his postgame news conference that his conditioning was lacking in his first game back.
“Weird feeling, but I’m just really happy to be back,” Doncic said in his postgame interview. “My chest was burning. I think slowly it’s going to come back.”
For the most part, Doncic seemed content to play the role of distributor instead of scorer on Sunday night. That was just fine with Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, who knows a thing or two about triple-doubles after having posted 107 of them throughout his illustrious playing career.
“He almost had a triple-double in 30 minutes, so I think he did a great job,” Kidd said in the same postgame news conference. “He set the table for his teammates, got his guys great shots, and rebounded the ball for us. I just kept asking how was his wind, and he said he felt great.”
Surprisingly, the Mavs were able to steady the ship while Doncic was out
Seemingly in jeopardy of their season slip away with their superstar out, the Dallas Mavericks surprisingly played well over the past three weeks to lessen the loss of their star player. As it turns out, the admirable stretch without Luka Doncic might end up being a season-saver.
Not only did the Mavs go 5-5 thanks to gutsy road wins in Oklahoma City, Portland, and Sacramento, but their offensive production increased without their primary ball-handler to facilitate the sets. In the 10 games without Doncic, the Mavs averaged 109.5 points and shot 46.4% — improvements over their season averages of 105.2 points and 43.6% shooting.
Just as Doncic returns, the hard-luck Dallas Mavericks lose Kristaps Porzingis to the NBA’s health and safety protocols
Mercurial center Kristaps Porzingis played like the star that the Mavs needed him to be when Doncic was out. He scored 22.8 points, grabbed 8.6 rebounds, and swatted 2.3 shots over the 10 games that Doncic was out. He did that while continuing to mostly misfire from 3-point range (10 of 42) — long a point of contention with the big man who often tends to shy away from mixing it up in the paint.
Bad news for the Mavs came on Monday when Porzingis entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and will be out for an uncertain period. Now, the weight of the franchise falls back onto the very capable shoulders of Doncic, who has averaged 25.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.5 assists with 13 double-doubles and two triple-doubles in 25 games. He’s even done a better job of laying off the refs and has just six technical fouls after being whistled for 16 last season.
The stretch before the break for the NBA All-Star Game is always one of the most critical for NBA teams, and that’s certainly the case for a Mavs team that has plenty of ground to make up in the standings.
For all of Doncic’s game-winning shots and record-breaking exploits, he’s still yet to win a playoff series in his 21/2-year NBA career. The first step toward accomplishing that goal is securing home-court advantage and a favorable playoff matchup.
Now that Doncic is back, it’s time for him to make up for lost time, give fans a taste of what they were missing while he was out those 23 days, and help the Mavericks run off a string of much-needed wins.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com