After watching the Dallas Mavericks put up a valiant effort while losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the opening round of the playoffs, guard Jalen Brunson believes the Mavs would have had an even greater chance at winning that series had they been at full strength.
Center Dwight Powell (Achilles tendon) and Brunson (shoulder) missed the entire series against the Clippers after undergoing respective surgery earlier this year. Center Willie Cauley-Stein also missed the entire series after his daughter was born before the Mavs left on July 8 for the NBA bubble.
In addition, forward Kristaps Porzingis missed the last three games of the series with a lateral meniscus tear of his right knee. And point guard Luka Doncic played the last four games of the series after spraining his left ankle in Game 3.
So for the Mavs to survive those misfortunes and win two games against the Clippers, Brunson said: “It definitely says a lot. It says a lot about what we have. I would say that it says that when we’re healthy you would think — even with us (injured players) not there — that this team was capable of beating that Clippers’ team.
“Obviously we were just short on experience, but we definitely belonged there, without a doubt. I think we proved to ourselves that we belonged there.”
For Brunson, it was painful not being able to be on the court and help out his teammates during their playoff run.
“It was difficult, and something I wouldn’t want to do again,” Brunson said. “That’s the first time in my life I was out for a significantly long time with an injury.
“Watching our team go out there, I was definitely proud of them and it was fun watching them. But I would much rather have been there with them and playing. Obviously, barring an injury I would have been out there playing and just doing whatever I could do to help the team.”
Brunson was thrilled to see Doncic finish fourth in the NBA’s Most Valuable Player race behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and James Harden. He also tipped his hat to his superstar teammate for being named first-team all-NBA.
“It tells you that he has ‘it,’ “ Brunson said. “He was definitely in the MVP race throughout the season. He just does what everyone expects him to do, and that’s what he did the whole year. He did put the league on notice, and within the next year I expect him to grow from last year to next year.
“I know individual awards are great, but just from knowing him, I know he just wants to win and win and win, and do whatever it takes to win. He wants us to move on to the second round, vie for the conference finals and the NBA Finals.”
While playing 17.9 minutes per game this season for the Mavs, Brunson averaged 8.2 points. 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. The second-year veteran started 16 of the 57 games he played in this year, and was generally one of the first players off the bench when he didn’t start.
Brunson underwent surgery on March 14 to address an injury to the labrum of his right shoulder. The injury occurred Feb. 22 at Atlanta on the game’s first possession.
Admittedly, Brunson said his rehab period was challenging in that it came simultaneously while the world was dealing with a global coronavirus pandemic. But he has been declared fit and ready to play whenever the 2020-21 season starts.
“It’s just something that you have to be careful of,” Brunson said, referring to Covid-19. “You have to be careful, but still work hard to do the things you have to do.
“To me it’s all about my body and what I can do to get better. That’s my first priority.”
The Mavs finished this season with a 43-32 record and reached their goal of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2016. However, the injuries down the stretch, Brunson surmised, changed where they could have eventually finished in the playoffs.
“We accomplished what we wanted, and to be where we wanted to be,” Brunson said. “It’s a first step, and after taking that step I think everyone is looking forward now to building on that and doing what we have to do to be even better.
“It’s going to be us having that mindset of getting better every day, getting better every year and pulling together. It’s definitely a long road to walk down, but I think that we have the personnel to do it.”