A frequent question going into the final game before the All-Star break was when Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will start clicking like a superstar duo should.
Apparently, from some vantage points, combining for 47 points and 18 rebounds per game isn’t considered clicking.
So in their first game together after Doncic missed seven games with a sprained right ankle, he and Porzingis went about the business of meshing with a clear message to skeptics.
They both had double-doubles. They both had 25 points – through three quarters. They both celebrated a much-needed victory.
Doncic finished with 33 points 12 rebounds and eight assists in his first game back and the Mavericks ran away from Sacramento in the second half for a 130-111 victory over the Kings.
Porzingis, who averaged 28.8 points in the games Doncic missed, didn’t skip a beat with 27 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots as the Mavericks widened their lead to 20-plus points in the third quarter to take the stress out of the fourth period.
It was a great way to go into the long pause for the All-Star break. Doncic of course will have a full weekend in Chicago. But the rest of the Mavericks will scatter for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Thinking about basketball will be discouraged for a few days. Their next game is Feb. 21 in Orlando.
And they all will have great feelings about this game.
“I thought Luka played great,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought Porzingis played great. I thought they played great together. And it’s been awhile since they played together. So this is a nice way to go into the break.”
Asked about the fact that the duo has had so little time together in the past two months, Carlisle said:
“We have to view it as a good thing that we’ve had to play without these guys individually for a couple stretches. It really stresses the team and brings the best out in the rest of the guys. Coming out of the break, we got to lick our wounds and the home stretch is going to be big for playoff positioning and all that. We haven’t made the playoffs yet.”
Doncic said he felt great during his first game action since Jan. 28. He kept the pressure on the kings, made 10-of-18 shots and had one of his best free-throw shooting games of the season, hitting 10-of-12.
“Great game,” Doncic said. “I’m glad to be out there just playing basketball. And I’m glad we got a win.
“It (working with Porzingis) is getting better and better. And it’s going to get better. It was great we both had those nights. We got to keep working and get better and better.”
The Mavericks hit the All-Star break at 33-22. That .600 winning percentage puts them on pace for 49 wins. They aren’t exactly a well-oiled machine yet. They are just 15-14 at home and 12-12 overall since late December.
But, since Dec. 16, Doncic and Porzingis have played together just nine times in the past 30 games. Doncic’s ankle and Porzingis’ knee have kept them from developing chemistry on the court.
On Wednesday, it wasn’t a problem.
“We looked good out there tonight,” Porzingis said. “Luka’s done a good job communicating to me where I want to get the ball. And he’s starting to find me in those spots where I’m comfortable. Slowly these things are starting to click. I think as we keep working, playing together, it’s going to get better and better and better. Everybody stepped up and played great tonight.”
But Doncic doesn’t turn 21 for another two weeks. Porzingis is 24, still very young in NBA terms. Carlisle knows better than anyone how teams need time to mature and learn how to be great. Even he has had to temper expectations.
That they have overachieved in the pre-All-Star break portion of the schedule has whet everybody’s appetite. And it’s tough to be tolerant of the growing pains that the Mavericks have had recently – a tough loss at Washington and a horrible showing at home against Utah.
But these things have to happen.
“This team is doing better than people expected, win-loss-wise,” Carlisle said. “But we’re taking our lumps. And myself and the rest of the coaching staff have to be patient with the process of guys getting used to playing with each other and us having to live through nights that are difficult and ugly.
“And I think people look too much at scoring averages and numbers and not enough at the big picture and what we’re trying to do as a team.”
Again, in a results-oriented business, it’s hard to be patient. But Carlisle speaks the truth. As Doncic got back on the court Wednesday, it was another chance to grow the brand that he and Porzingis will be.
It won’t always be easy. But at 33-22, they must be doing something right.