Already short on big men when they entered the NBA bubble, the Dallas Mavericks suddenly found themselves without their second-tallest player during Sunday afternoon’s scrimmage against the Indiana Pacers because of what coach Rick Carlisle described as “an innocent mistake.”
Mavs center/forward Kristaps Porzingis was unavailable to play against the Pacers because he failed to show up and take a mandatory coronavirus test on Saturday, which was the team’s off day. Because of that unfortunate misstep by Porzingis, by NBA rules he was automatically quarantined and unavailable to participate in the Mavs’ next day activities, which was the game against the Pacers.
That faux pas by the 7-3 Porzingis left the Mavs with just two active players on their roster taller than 6-8 – 7-4 Boban Marjanovic and 6-10 Maxi Kleber. And in their 118-111 loss to the Pacers at HP Field House, that left the Mavs in a precarious position.
“Really, Boban and Maxi alternated at (center) until the last nine or 10 minutes of the game when (6-5) Antonius Cleveland basically was our undersized (center),” Carlisle said. “Look, Porzingis would have helped us — I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
“But you’re given a certain set of circumstances and you always want to do your best. And I just thought we could have done a lot better in the second half, so we’ll just keep working.”
As Carlisle did in summarizing the Mavs’ plight against the Pacers, Luka Doncic, who only played 24 minutes and missed a triple-double by just one assist, also lamented the absence of Porzingis and the type of firepower he brings to the table.
“He’s great on the boards, he can score for us, he can guard a lot of people, he can block shots,” said Doncic, who finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. “So we missed him a lot.”
Kleber finished with 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes, and added that it didn’t really matter to him whether he was utilized at the power forward or center position.
“I just try and fulfill my role, set good screens, make the right play on offense, and on defense try to communicate and make the right play,” he said. “Over the (time) I’ve played with the Mavericks, I played both positions, so I’m pretty used to both of them.”
The Mavs had a firm grip on this game midway through the second quarter when the shooting of Seth Curry, Kleber and Doncic ignited a spark that helped them mount a 48-35 lead. But the Pacers came roaring back to slice the Dallas deficit to 64-61 at intermission, and promptly seized control of the game when they opened the second half by outscoring the Mavs, 18-8, to assume a 79-72 lead.
“The first half was pretty good and the second half we really struggled,” Carlisle said. “They broke us down a lot defensively and it broke down our offense too. There were a lot of positives in the first half, and the second half was disappointing.
“I like the first half tonight – the pace was good, the ball moved. In the second half Indiana picked up their physicality and it was a factor. We’ve got to do better in those situations.”
Indiana led by as much as 12 points in the fourth quarter before J. J. Barea got the Mavs within 109-107 when he nailed a 3-pointer with 1:47 remaining in the game. However, Edmond Sumner buried three free throws after he was fouled attempting a 3-pointer and the Pacers ended the game on a 9-4 run and left the Mavs with a 1-1 scrimmage record.
“We know we can score, but we’ve got to make sure we have the same kind of emphasis toward getting better defensively,” Carlisle said. “So, that’s where we’ll put our energy tomorrow.
“These are scrimmages/exhibition games and they don’t count, but they’re opportunities for us. Regular season games are less than a week away, so we’ve got to keep going for daily improvement.”
The Mavs shot 43.3 percent from the field and were 15-of-38 from 3-point range for a respectable 39.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Pacers made 48.4 percent of their field goals and misfired on 23 of their 31 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc for a mere 25.8 percent.
In summing up Sunday’s game and Thursday’s 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Kleber said: “We had really good stretches in those games, but today in the second half we started off kind of slow. We still got to figure out how to play together. We have practice (Monday) and we can look at our mistakes and learn from them.”
Barea finished with 14 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Mavs, and Justin Jackson tossed in 12 points. The Pacers were led by T. J. Warren (20 points), Malcolm Brogdon (17 points) and Victor Oladipo (16 points).
Dallas will play its final scrimmage on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against the Philadelphia 76ers before restarting the 2019-20 season on Friday at 7 p.m. against Houston. The Mavs currently are seventh in the Western Conference standings, but are just a game-and-a-half behind the Rockets and Oklahoma City, and only two-a-and-half games behind the No. 4-seeded Utah Jazz.
“We can get higher than we are,” Doncic said. “We can get up to the four spot, and we’re looking forward to that, so we want to win all the games.”
Two reasons the Mavs are short on tall players is because Dwight Powell (6-10) is still recovering from Achilles tendon surgery and Willie Cauley-Stein (7-foot) decided not to join the team in Orlando following the July 6 birth of his daughter. Nevertheless, the Mavs expect to have Porzingis back for Monday’s practice and for Tuesday’s game against the Sixers.
“We’re fortunate it’s just a one-day thing,” Carlisle said of Porzingis. “Some teams are resting their star players and not even playing them in some of these games.
“We’ll have a good practice tomorrow with KP and we’ll get back to it. Again this situation is one where he just took his eye off the ball a little bit in terms of the day-to-day protocols and procedures.”