Luka Dončić, suffering from a cervical strain, has been listed as probable for Game 5 on Wednesday night, and coach Rick Carlisle expects his superstar point guard to be available.
Maxi Kleber, the 6-10 forward who has fought various ailments for big chunks of this season, also is listed as probable with a sore right Achilles.
Both players have been receiving treatments since Game 4 Sunday. Carlisle reported improvement in Dončić’s condition on Tuesday after a practice in Los Angeles.
“He seems to be doing better, so that’s good news,” Carlisle said. “I’m not sure how much better, but he’s definitely better. And Maxi’s doing OK. He’s kind of on the usual in-between-game regimen. But I expect both of those guys to play.”
With what effectiveness remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that the two off days between games certainly helped. The LA Clippers have pulled into a 2-2 tie in the series with Game 5 at 9 p.m., Dallas time, from the Staples Center.
In his first three games in this series, Dončić averaged 38 points, nine assists and 8.7 rebounds.
On Sunday in Game 4 after the neck issue became more than just a nuisance, he had 19 points, six assists and six rebounds and had by far his worst shooting night of the series (9-of-24).
Afterward, Rick Carlisle said it appeared that Dončić had a difficult time turning his head to the left – clearly a problem for a player who’s step-back jumpers typically come after a dribble to the left side of the court.
On Tuesday, he updated the genesis of the injury, and more.
“I’m assuming that he either got hit and wrenched it or that he fell and wrenched it,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know the exact origin. I just know it was very painful. But he’s done a little better and a little better each day. I don’t know if he’s 80 percent, if he’s 85, if he’s 75, that would have to be a question you’d have to ask him, but it does appear that he’s feeling better.”
Boban Marjanović is a close friend on the team with Dončić and said he can tell the difference in the way the third-year Slovenian is moving.
“I’ve known him to disguise his pain, but I see how he moves, how he turns his neck,” Marjanović said. “It’s not like his regular moves. But he wants to play, wants to be there and be a big plus for the game. He’s tough and wants to win. He’s an important player and he is willing to play.”
Kleber has had perhaps the biggest challenge of any Maverick this series as the primary defender on Kawhi Leonard. Leonard got loose in transition too many times in Game 4, Carlisle said.
But a healthy Kleber remains one of the best options the Mavericks have to guard Leonard. Kleber also has fought a COVID-19 battle in January, back problems and several ankle woes.
“It’s a factor,” Carlisle said of the buildup of many injuries and illnesses this season. “I really feel like this has been a year where he’s been up against it all the entire time.
“The COVID thing back in January, he had a more challenging case than the other guys did – some strain that knocked the heck out of him. It takes weeks to feel better. I don’t know how many stretches this season he’s felt really good.”