PORTLAND, Ore. – Coach Rick Carlisle called it “a new reality” for the Mavericks as they played their first game without starting center Dwight Powell.
It’s a time for adjustment and tinkering with lineups and player combinations.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t winning time.
The Mavericks came out with guns blazing on Thursday night, rolled up a big lead and then survived a serious third-quarter drought, hanging on for a 133-125 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center.
With Kristaps Porzingis playing mostly center instead of power forward as the Mavericks went with a smaller lineup around the 7-3 Porzingis, they didn’t seem to miss a beat.
Because of it, they continued their road mastery as they improved to 15-5 in hostile environs and 28-16 overall behind a remarkable shooting display by pretty much everybody that stepped on the court.
“I was proud of our guys and the way they adjusted to our situation,” Carlisle said. “We have a new reality without Dwight. And it’s going to require a real togetherness and a real persistence and a real understanding of who we have to be, and that’s an attacking team that’s skilled. Defensively we have to do it collectively.”
This was not a banner night for the defense. Look no further than Damian Lillard’s 47-point night for proof of that. But it was better in the middle quarters when the Mavericks went up by 25 points.
After that, it was a matter of survival, which the Mavericks’ hot 3-point shooting took care of.
It was a crowning night for Doncic, who earlier in the day was named a starter in the All-Star Game. He finished with 27 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He actually was one of the few Mavericks who wasn’t torrid from the 3-point line, making just 2-of-11.
Everybody else was a combined 20-of-36. The Mavericks got 20 points from Porzingis, 17 from new starter Seth Curry and 16 off the bench from Jalen Brunson.
The Blazers trailed 93-68 but rallied with 17 consecutive points, many of them by Lillard, as they made it a game going into the fourth quarter.
It was Brunson, who had a key 3-pointer on his way to 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc that helped the Mavericks put the game away in the fourth quarter. Brunson had five points and assisted on the other basket as the Mavericks turned an 11-point game into a 119-101 lead that was good enough to get them to the finish line.
Porzingis said there are things he likes about playing center as opposed to power forward. But the main thing he believes the Mavericks need is to make their killer instinct they showed on Thursday a regular occurrence.
“For us, we know we’re going to score. It’s more about getting stops,” Porzingis said. “We have so many weapons. It’s more about us not just exchanging baskets.
“We got to be the type of team that just steps on the opposite team’s throat. We’re getting there. We’re going to keep working and try to be a great team at that.”
As for playing center alongside forward Dorian Finney-Smith, Porzingis said: “What I like about it is a lot of times, the five is the one that kind of initiates the offense with Luka as the point guard. Always swinging the ball, that’s what I like about it and mixing in the popping and rolling. I can also do that at the four. I like playing both.”
Carlisle said the Mavericks are going to continue working on the best ways to make up for Powell’s loss.
“We’re running out of big men,” he said. “We’re going to be smaller in a lot of these situations. This was an adjustment we needed to make tonight so we had a lot of space to attack the paint.”
Doncic said there’s “a difference, for sure” with Porzingis playing center. But he liked the way the team adjusted to the absence of Powell, who is out for the season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon on Tuesday.
““We’re going to miss him a lot,” Doncic said. “But we got a group of guys who can play different positions. We’re just going to keep going. We’re a team and we’ll stick together.
“To get a win, that’s all that matters to me. I think we played a great game. We had to stop Dame, which is very tough. But all that matters is we got a win.”