The importance of Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks should never be underestimated. The statistics and other meaningful things he does on the court bore that out.
Of the last 10 games Porzingis has played, the Mavs are 9-1, with the lone loss coming at home to Portland, 121-118, on Feb. 14. Better yet, the Mavs are 7-3 this season when Porzingis scores 20 or more points, and 10-4 when he converts seven or more field goals.
In Saturday’s 116-103 road win at Denver, Porzingis scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots. He also was 10-of-15 from the floor, including 5-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“He’s a weapon,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He got a couple in deep (Saturday), he hit some mid-range shots, he hit some good seals, and I thought he moved the ball beautifully.
“The other thing that you take your hat off to him on is how well he’s mixing up popping, (and) rolling in the spacing game to allow us to have the driving lanes. We rarely get to the bonus pretty early in all the quarters, and a lot of that has to do with the fact they got to have a guy standing next to him 30 feet away from the basket.”
Guard Josh Richardson has a good grasp of how to plug Porzingis in and get him jump-started right away.
“KP is super important for us on both ends,” Richardson said. “I think when we can get him engaged and when he’s rolling on both ends, it gives us a lot of energy. He’s blocking shots. He can score from pretty much anywhere.
“Even when he’s not scoring, he has a good gravity and he understands he draws doubles and he knows where to kick it and he knows when to attack, and he’s a good teammate. These last few weeks he’s been great for us.”
Porzingis underwent surgery on Oct. 9 to address a lateral meniscus injury of his right knee. That forced him to miss the first nine games of the season.
But since his return, Porzingis is averaging 20.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 22 games.
“I’m feeling good,” the 7-3, 240-pounder said. “I think as the season as went on I’ve gotten into a better rhythm with each game. I always say the same thing, but it takes time for my teammates to also get used to playing with me, like J-Rich.
“Now he’s finding me in my spots and giving me the ball down low when I’m asking for it, and the timing is better. All those things are starting to click slowly and once we get it going offensively like that – moving the ball and stuff – our defensive advantages just go up many levels, and that’s what you saw (Saturday).”
And that’s not all the Mavs saw in their beatdown of the Nuggets.
“I think we probably ran 30 pick-and-rolls with KP and Luka (Doncic),” Carlisle said. “KP’s a threat anywhere from 40 feet and in. I think he’s proven that.
“He hit a three in the right top in the fourth quarter where they were making a bit of a mini-run that got it from 14 back to 17, and it took some wind out of their sails.”
The Mavs (20-17) are hoping they’ll be able to take the wind out of the sails of the Los Angeles Clippers (25-14) twice this week when the two teams collide at American Airlines Center on Monday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, of his team’s identity, Carlisle said: “We want to be an attacking team. Our goal was to be improved defensively.
“We’re showing signs of that in the last really two weeks since KP has come back from his lower back tightness. He’s been a presence. He’s feeling better, he’s looking better.”
And not only is Porzingis supplying the Mavs with a measure of success offensively on the perimeter, on the blocks and with his mid-range jumper. He’s also been a steady guardian of the defensive basket.
“In general we’ve had him guarding the (centers),” Carlisle said. “To put a 7-3 guy on the perimeter to start games intuitively is not where we’re coming from. We want his length around the basket as much as possible.
“Hey look, Maxi (Kleber) can block shots, Maxi is a good rebounder. But he’s not 7-3. We want to keep KP in that situation as much as possible.”
In the meantime, Porzingis noted that the Mavs are just trying to play their best basketball possible.
“Most importantly is that at the end of the day we have to hold each other accountable, but starting with ourselves,” Porzingis said. “We’ve got to look in the mirror and say, ‘Ok, am I doing this, am I putting in the work, am I doing all the things necessary for us to be good as a team?’
“It starts with ourselves, and that’s it. And everything else will trickle down and everything else will be right.”