Willie Cauley-Stein has missed more games this season than any member of the Dallas Mavericks because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
But that didn’t prevent the 7-foot, 240-pound center from having one of his best games of the season Thursday night when the Mavs defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 115-110, at American Airlines Center.
Cauley-Stein had 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. That’s the eighth time this season he’s scored at least 10 points in a game, the fifth time he’s collected at least eight rebounds and the 10th time he’s blocked at least two shots.
The performance by Cauley-Stein was much needed considering center Maxi Kleber didn’t play against the Lakers due to a lower back contusion, and center/forward Kristaps Porzingis was knocked out of the game in the second half with a sprained left ankle.
Cauley-Stein also took home the defensive player of the game belt, which coach Rick Carlisle delivers to a player who shines on the defensive end of the court whenever the Mavs win a game.
“His on and off numbers were the best on the team,” Carlisle said of Cauley-Stein. “And he continues to have a great year defensively.”
Overall, Cauley-Stein played a season-high 31 minutes against the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back. Not bad considering he was in the NBA’s health and safety protocols from March 19-27 and again from March 29-April 8 for a team-high 12 missed games.
“I had to come in and be a professional,” Cauley-Stein said. “My body hurt from (Wednesday’s game against Detroit).
“Not knowing that you are going to play that much and just being ready to play plays a big factor in that. So just staying ready, and that week where I got to work out saved me a lot. Otherwise, it could be worse.”
Cauley-Stein said he never got sick while he was in the health and safety protocols.
“I actually was just in the protocol,” he said. “The beginning of the third week they said I could start working out.
“The last week I got to finally get in the gym, and me, I just ran sprints. I would shoot my shots and just run sprints.”
Those sprints, Cauley-Stein said, was his way of hitting the reset button on his body and getting his conditioning intact. And that certainly came into play against the Lakers, because of the 19 players who participated in Thursday’s game, Cauley-Stein’s plus/minus of plus 18 was the highest of any player.
Cauley-Stein is averaging modest numbers of 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game this season. But his teammates rave about the fact that he keeps himself ready to play, despite playing in only 39 of the Mavs’ 58 games this season.
“Willie’s a guy that’s very professional,” guard Josh Richardson said. “He’s always ready to play. He’s gotten a couple of (did not play, coach’s decision) lately, but he’s done a good job of being professional about it and not letting it get him down.
“To come back the way he did (Thursday) and make such an impact on the game, that’s all you can ask from a guy.”
Since both Porzingis and Kleber are questionable for Saturday’s game at American Airlines Center against the Lakers, the Mavs may need Cauley-Stein to duplicate what he did on Thursday against the defending NBA champions.
“I know that the impact I have on this team is being able to put pressure on the rim and out-run people, so I was just trying to keep in that type of shape,” Cauley-Stein said. “I think the last three games getting to run and slowly work back into that set me up for a really big night.
“My wind was really good (Thursday). I think practice played a big role in that, too — just being able to play four-on-four for a few days before. It was good stuff.”