For two weeks, Dorian Finney-Smith anxiously sat in a Denver hotel room, unable to leave the building to even go to a sandwich shop around the corner.
It was, as Finney-Smith put it, not a very pleasant time.
Finney-Smith was confined to a hotel room in the Mile High City because after the Dallas Mavericks played a game in Denver on Jan., 7, he tested positive for the coronavirus. He was immediately placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
“Coach (Rick Carlisle) said it was going to be a weird year, but I never thought it was going to be me stuck in (Denver),” Finney-Smith said. “I didn’t think it was going to be me, but we’re here.”
During his isolation, Finney-Smith repeatedly talked to his family in order to keep himself mentally on track. And there was another noteworthy item that brought him solace.
“My girlfriend is pregnant, so just knowing that I didn’t bring the virus home was kind of my way of staying positive and making light of the situation,” Finney-Smith said. “I just tried to stay off social media while I was locked in the room. Just tried to read or something. Just tried to stay off my phone because, man, 14 days in a hotel is tougher than what it may seem.”
What also was tough for Finney-Smith was watching the Mavs struggle to a 4-5 record during his absence. That’s because he knew if he was there, things probably would have been different.
“It was tough just knowing some of the young guys were forced to go out there and do stuff guys like me and (Josh Richardson) could have helped them with,” Finney-Smith said. “Just like (rookie) Josh Green going on star players and have to guard them, and I can’t be in his ear to tell him guy’s tendencies. Stuff like that, I think we could have helped.
“Usually when you’re hurt you can be around the team and coach the guys. But when you’re a couple of states (away) sitting in a hotel you kind of feel useless.”
Fortunately for Finney-Smith, he doesn’t have to feel helpless anymore. Now released from the health and safety protocols, the fifth-year veteran forward practiced with his teammates on Tuesday, then hopped on the team plane to fly to Salt Lake City, where the Mavs (8-9) will play the Utah Jazz (13-4) on Wednesday and again on Friday.
Dwight Powell and Richardson also practiced Tuesday and are expected to play against the Jazz, while Maxi Kleber remains in the health and safety protocols.
After he tested positive for COVID-19, Finney-Smith was exasperated, not knowing what to immediately think and not knowing what unpleasantries – if any — were coming next.
“When I tested positive, just sitting there waiting to see what symptoms I’m going to get was probably the most anxious I was,” Finney-Smith said after Tuesday’s practice. “They told me how you’re supposed to feel, and you’re just sitting there waiting on something to happen. I would say that was probably the toughest thing.
“I didn’t really feel too bad. It kind of felt like a bad cold, but I think just sitting there trying to wait to tell somebody how I feel was kind of tough. Even though, I’m like, ‘I’m feeling good. I’m ready to leave.’ I was just getting a fever, but I was feeling perfectly fine, I would say.”
Finney-Smith started all eight games the Mavs played before testing positive for COVID-19, and averaged 9.3 points, five rebounds and 1.4 steals. He was an anchor of the Mavs’ defense.
“Without Dorian,” Carlisle said, “we miss obviously one of our best defenders and best system players.”
Carlisle acknowledged “the fact that (Finney-Smith, Richardson and Powell) actually contracted the virus” means there will be some challenges ahead.
“But they’ve been in the gym for several days working out, lifting, working to get their legs back under them,” Carlisle said. “The thing that we’ve got to do is get them some game action and get them back into it.
“You can play three-on-three with our young guys in a half court and partial full court setting, but you’re never going to simulate an NBA game until you play in an NBA game. We just got to get the process going.”
Carlisle anticipates having Richardson and Powell – along with Finney-Smith – available to play against the Jazz. He just doesn’t know how many minutes he expect them to play.
“It’s been a long road for these guys,” Carlisle said. “They’ve gone through a big process. There’s going to be a gradual aspect to it. They’re not going to be back in game shape overnight, but it’s great having them back in practice. They’re three of our best defenders and most unselfish guys.”
Finney-Smith said he’s excited to be back around his teammates and be back on his private oasis – the basketball court. Yet he’s not promising his body will react as quickly on Wednesday as it did during the Jan. 7 game against the Nuggets when he finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks during a 124-117 victory in overtime for the Mavs.
“I’ve got to get myself back to the playing shape that I was,” Finney-Smith said. “I feel like the only way you really can get back in game shape is to play in games. I’m probably going to be a little winded tomorrow. Also, it’s (Salt Lake City) Utah (which sits 6,100 feet above sea level), so that don’t help.
“I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can. If it’s 20, 15, 25 (minutes), it doesn’t matter. Y’all know I’m going to go out there and play until I ask for a sub.”