It wasn’t exactly a warm-and-fuzzy welcome-back for Dorian Finney-Smith, who went through his first full practice in nearly a month.

But he expected nothing less when an old friend was waiting for him with a ration of trash talk.

Luka Dončić and Finney-Smith were going at each other in the five-on-five scrimmage and the superstar point guard wanted to make sure the Mavericks’ best defender knew what was going on.

“Tell them they (Finney-Smith’s team) had to double me,” Dončić said as he walked by Finney-Smith’s interview session Tuesday afternoon.

To which, the 6-7 swingman said with a clarifying tone: “Guarding LD, that’s how I see how I’m doing. He made some tough shots and he’s definitely going to let me hear about it.

“We aren’t supposed to double when I’m the main guy, but we’re trying to work on what other teams do to us. So that’s why we were doubling. But he couldn’t wait to score on me to say: Welcome back, Doe. He just missed me, that’s all.”

As did all the Mavericks, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

If there are no setbacks stemming from Tuesday’s robust workout, Finney-Smith expects to play Wednesday against Atlanta. It’ll be his first game since he strained his right adductor muscle on Dec. 19.

“I felt good today – first time going through a full practice,” Finney-Smith said. “Been playing one-on-one and three-on-three. But it felt good and I’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

“Right now, I feel like I’m going to (play). I don’t like sitting. It’s been awhile. This is probably the most games I’ve missed since COVID. (9-13).”

Actually, it’s been longer. Last season, Finney-Smith missed nine games when he was diagnosed. He’s missed 14 games with the adductor strain, assuming he returns Wednesday.

But, he said, there’s a silver lining: “At least we’re in a better spot than we were when I had COVID, so that’s a blessing.”

That’s true. The Mavericks, despite their lousy 1-4 road trip that ended Sunday in Portland, they remain fifth in the Western Conference.

At 24-21, they are 2½ games out of third in the West. They also are only 2½ games ahead of 11th-place Oklahoma City. And as we all know, 11th place doesn’t even make the play-in tournament.

But with Finney-Smith, and perhaps Josh Green also, returning to action this week, the Mavericks have reason to believe that their level of play will improve, particularly at the defensive end.

Jason Kidd certainly hopes so.

“It gave guys an opportunity to play,” he said of the rash of injuries the Mavericks have endured. “Numbers-wise, not very nice. The 25th defense isn’t what we want. To win in this league, we have to be better. So it’s good to hopefully get Josh, Doe back and have some wings that do defend and have helped us defensively.”

Asked what he likes specifically about Finney-Smith, Kidd said: “Just being able to guard one through five. And also his ability to shoot the three and the comfort level with Luka on the floor. The continuity of having him, Reggie (Bullock) and Josh out there defensively, that’s where we’ve had some success.”

The adductor injury was one that cost Finney-Smith all of his lateral movement. He said it was impossible to do the things he wants to do defensively when he couldn’t move.

“If I can’t be me on defense, then it’s kind of tough for me to be out there,” he said. “Anytime I had to do any quick-twitch moves, I feel it in my right groin. I just felt like if I can’t be me, I wasn’t helping the team.”

So the Mavericks shut him down after Finney-Smith tried to go in the second half of the Minnesota game on Dec. 19. He’s been on the shelf since.

And it hasn’t been pretty watching from the bench, even though the Mavericks had an eight-game winning streak before their latest tailspin.

“It’s hard to win in this league when guys are scoring 130 points,” Finney-Smith said. “We’re scoring. We’re doing a good job on offense. But we got to stop the other team. Coach has been giving us a great game plan. It’s on us to execute.

“We showed plenty of stretches this year that we can guard. We just got to focus on it. Sometimes when scoring gets easy, we kind of let go of the ropes on defense. We got to start finding some joy in stopping guys.”

Getting Finney-Smith worked back into his full-time role should help. And the Mavericks also have at least one day off between all their games from now until Feb. 10.

Understandably, the mood is a little rough, Finney-Smith after losing five of their last seven since their seven-game winning streak.

“We still got to stick together,” he said. “We’re still in fifth (in the West). If we get hot right now, we can put ourselves in a good position.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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