The Dallas Mavericks haven’t been out of the first round of the playoffs since 2011 – the year they won the NBA title. But Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey believe that’ll change this season.

Casey said the combination of the talent the Mavs have assembled on their roster combined with Rick Carlisle’s coaching acumen puts Dallas in position to advance to the second round of the playoffs this season, and maybe even farther.

“Rick is one of the best in the league as far as coaching,” said Casey, who was one of Carlisle’s assistant coaches on the Mavs’ 2011 championship squad. “They’ve got his type of team, his type of players.”

The way Casey explained it, the exceptional talents of point guard Luka Doncic and forward/center Kristaps Porzingis should be enough to help the Mavs have a long stay in the playoffs. Especially if Porzingis and the rest of the Mavs can stay healthy.

“The West is tough, but (the Mavs) have two superstars in Doncic and Porzingis that can go off at any moment and (they have) great players around them,” Casey said. “I see them (getting out of the first round).”

After Thursday’s 115-105 victory over the Pistons, the Mavs are 35-27 overall and eight games over .500 for the first time this season. They also are just one game behind the Los Angeles Lakers in their quest to nab the Western Conference’s No. 5 seed.

“They’re playing today’s NBA game that you’ve got to play,” Casey said of the Mavs. “And when that type of team is hot, it’s hard to turn off that water.

“They break you down, and as their drive, kick, swing game comes around, their guys are very capable 3-point shooters.”

Casey also describes the Mavs’ defense as “sneaky” and very capable of being a difference-maker during various games.

“They play an up-tempo game, a high-possession game, so those scores are going to be up,” Casey said. “You’ve got Porzingis who’s 7’10 or whatever he is, you’ve got (Maxi) Kleber who’s athletic as heck, and  Doncic has great defensive hands.

“He doesn’t move his feet much, but his hands are all over the place. They’re sneaky, but they want to get you in a high-possession game, so it’s going to make their defensive numbers look bad, or whatever, but they’re a solid defensive team.”

Casey added that the Mavs play enough zone defense – and play it effectively — to keep teams off-balance.

“Rick has them competing,” Casey said. “They’re going to play hard, they’ve got a lot of pride, they’re smart, so that is something you’ve got to account for. I told Rick I love his team when we played them the last time. I just don’t like coaching against them, They’re going to be hard to deal with in the West.”

Porzingis leaves with right knee soreness: Forward/center Kristaps Porzingis played Thursday night against the Detroit Pistons after missing the previous three games with a left ankle sprain.

However, he was limited to just 21 minutes after experiencing some soreness in his right knee. And that is cause for concern considering Porzingis missed the first nine games of this season after undergoing surgery on Oct. 9 to address a lateral meniscus injury of his right knee.

“I have great concern this time of the year when somebody has a hangnail,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That’s the world we’re living in right now with this density of games.

“The good thing was I didn’t hear anything about (Porzingis’ sore knee) at halftime. It was when he came out in the third (quarter) after a few minutes of sitting out. As the (third) quarter break was coming, Casey (Smith, the Mavs’ director of player health and performance) just let me know that (Porzingis) was not going to be back, so we had to come up with obviously a different plan.”

In addition to the injury to Porzingis, point guard Luka Doncic (left elbow contusion) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (left lower leg soreness) sat out Thursday’s game. But their injury aren’t deemed serious.

“Dorian’s got a leg that’s been banged up and Luka’s got an elbow thing that’s been bothering him since (last Saturday’s Los Angeles) Laker game,” Carlisle said. “(Doncic has) tolerated it very well when you consider the frequency of games, the intensity of games.

“Every game has a high level of meaning at this stage. I didn’t realize (Doncic has played) 16 (games) in a row, but now that you’ve mention it, it feels like 16 in a row.”

Carlisle, meanwhile, said it’s too early to tell if Porzingis will be ready when the Mavs host the Washington Wizards on Saturday.

“He seemed to be walking fine afterwards and was in good spirits, so we’ll see how he’s feeling in the next day or so,” Carlisle said. “I could tell that coming back after the better part of a week, it’s not as simple as just walking back out in an NBA game. It’s a different kind of deal.

“This (Detroit) team is young, a very dynamic, athletically and very strong (team and) they’re always hitting you. It was not an easy circumstance for him to come back. Look, we’ll hope for the best and hope it’s not any kind of a serious issue and go from there.”

Porzingis finished the game with 11 points and one rebound and was 5-of-11 from the field after leaving for good with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter and the Mavs nursing a slim 77-73 lead.

Tidbit on 2011 championship team: Before Thursday’s Dallas-Detroit Pistons, Dwane Casey was talking  about the Mavs’ 2011 championship series against the Miami Heat.

In particular, Casey, as assistant coach with the Mavs at the time, made reference to Game 5 of that series when the Mavs won, 112-103, after resorting to playing a zone defense.

Sports Illustrated is doing a story on the 2011 team about how it was Game 5 where we were getting kicked by Miami and they had a big lead on us and we went to the zone and it turned it around,” said Casey, who is now the head coach of the Pistons. “(Former Temple coach) John Chaney used to say, ‘It’s not the ride. It’s the fear of the ride.’

“The zone may not be great, but it’s just that: ‘Ah, it’s a zone.’ Back then it was even more prevailing as far as that feeling. But I think teams today know how to attack it a little bit better. They don’t have the fear of the zone as much as they used to, but it still can be an effective weapon to take a team out of rhythm.”

The Mavs were down, 2-1, in that best-of-seven series to the Heat, but won the last three games and the championship.

Carlisle marvels about Burke: Coach Rick Carlisle has marveled about the recent play of backup point guard Trey Burke.

“He’s a guy seven-eight years into his career that’s experienced adversities at different times and in different sort of situations,” Carlisle said. “He’s learned that it’s a stay-ready business.

“One of the things I love most about him is he’s always a positive upbeat guy whether he’s playing or not. He’s a strong voice in the locker room, he’s all about the right stuff.”

Burke contributed 19 points, five assists and two steals last Monday against the Sacramento Kings, added a career-high tying four steals in Tuesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, and also scored 15 points in Thursday’s win over Detroit.

“He played terrific in Sacramento, and then basically validated it in a big way – not necessarily with gaudy scoring or anything like that — but just the defensive effort chasing Stephen Curry around,” Carlisle said. “It’s hard to describe how difficult a job that is, but he busted his butt and he’s obviously proven that he’s ready.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice


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