Reading the tea leaves, it appears that Luka Doncic will be back from his sprained right ankle Thursday night against San Antonio.
But even if he’s not, the Mavericks will go into the game as favorites against the Spurs. That’s equal parts an indictment on where the Spurs are these days and what the Mavericks did in the four games without Doncic.
They went 2-2 against Eastern Conference teams, all of whom were in the top five in the East on Christmas Day and who had a combined record of 90-30.
That’s what is typically called holding the fort down when a superstar is out. They played legitimate title contenders and were able to tread water.
Officially, Doncic has been upgraded to questionable for Thursday’s game. That’s a pretty significant step up in likelihood of playing since he was definitely ruled out for the previous four games.
It will be a welcomed return, no matter when it happens.
Starting Thursday, the Mavericks go back to the Western Conference for four games, the last three of which will be on the road at Golden State, the LA Lakers and Oklahoma City.
The Mavericks should feel good about the way they have handled four games (nearly five considering Doncic left in the first two minutes against Miami on Dec. 14) without their superstar point guard.
They have played well. Kristaps Porzingis has stepped up. Other players like Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell have done a solid job of picking up some of the slack.
It’s been a stretch of confirmation in many ways that they are legitimate. The Mavericks appear to be primed to play for bigger stakes in the coming months as the long grind gets more serious.
Even the blown 30-point lead in Toronto in the last game before a three-day Christmas break couldn’t really dampen the Mavericks’ spirits.
“We just had to work on a few things, coach Rick Carlisle said after the Mavericks practiced on Christmas Eve. The team took Christmas off, as did all teams that weren’t playing in one of the five nationally televised games.
Carlisle said that, while losing the giant lead against the Raptors was a painful experience, he and the players took something positive out of it.
“Let’s keep getting leads,” he said. “They’re hard to come by in the NBA. Obviously we’re disappointed that it got away. But we’re back home and we got to play better at home.”
While the Mavericks’ 11-3 road record is beyond exemplary, their 8-7 home record leaves much to be desired. The energy at home has not been there, neither from the team nor the sellout crowd.
That could be a byproduct of many things. The Mavericks and NBA typically get more ramped up in fans’ minds once Christmas has passed. That’s usually when the NFL regular season is about over and, perhaps, the Cowboys’ season will be over, too.
But if they are looking at San Antonio’s 12-17 record and thinking the post-holiday stretch will start with a walkover, they could not be more wrong.
The Spurs have won six of their last 10 and are only a game out of the playoffs in the West.
As Carlisle has often said, nothing will come easy for the Mavericks or anybody else this season.