LOS ANGELES — Kristaps Porzingis keeps using the words “free” and “fun” when explaining why he’s been so productive this season.
It is as if Porzingis was caught on some type of ferris wheel the past few seasons, and a new operator showed up and set him free. That may explain why the 7-3 forward has been so efficient this season.
“I’m just playing feeling free, I would say that’s the main thing,” Porzingis said. “I’m just feeling free to play my game, and then my teammates are trusting me, my coaches are trusting me and I’m coming out there and just having fun.”
Porzingis is having so much fun that in the last seven games he’s averaging 26 points and 9.3 rebounds, and shooting 52.8 percent from the field (66-of-125) and 40.5 percent from behind the three-point line (17-of-42). That incudes a 30-point, seven-rebound showing in Tuesday’s 112-104 win in overtime against the Los Angeles Clippers.
It was a game that Porzingis completely took over in the overtime session when he scored six of the Mavs’ nine points, and also came up with a pair of critical offensive rebounds.
What stood out prominently in Tuesday’s contest is that it was the first game for superstar point guard Luka Doncic after he sat out three straight games with sprains in his left knee and left ankle, and it was generally assumed that Porzingis would take a back seat and let Doncic take over in overtime. But that obviously wasn’t the case.
“Sometimes when a star player comes back there’s a tendency that things can change,” coach Jason Kidd said. “But I thought KP played his game that he’s always played.”
And when Porzingis has “played his game,” that spells trouble for the defense.
“He’s playing at a very high level, he’s having fun and he’s doing it on both ends, defensively and offensively,” Kidd said. “He was 10-for-10 at the line (against the Clippers), and he came up with some big offensive rebounds for us to give us another opportunity.
What Porzingis was able to accomplish on Tuesday was similar to what he’s been doing all season. His body language has proven that he’s not the same player the Mavs acquired in a Jan. 31, 2019 trade with the New York Knicks.
“If you’re not having fun, then it’s tough to play and give it your all,” Porzingis said. “I feel like this year we have that kind of environment and we’re just playing hard for each other and having fun out there.”
There goes that word again from Porzingis – fun.
“I’m just playing my game,” he said. “I’m not really doing anything that I’m not used to.
“Some post-ups, some attacks from outside, offensive rebounds, energy, blocking shots. Yeah, the complete game, I would say.”
And a complete game that was helped by the return of Doncic, who finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
“He’s always willing to make the right play,” Porzingis said of Doncic. “If they’re double-teaming him and he doesn’t like the shot or he doesn’t like to attack against two guys, he will hit the next guy and we just have to make sure that we make the next play after that.
“He can’t do everything by himself. It’s fun to have him out there, for sure.”
On opening day, the Mavs started Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt, Kristaps Porzingis and Dorian Finney-Smith at the forward spots, and Dwight Powell at center. But on Tuesday, Willie Cauley-Stein replaced Powell in the starting center position.
Kidd said the move wasn’t made because Powell did something wrong.
“We just wanted to look at Willie starting,” Kidd said. “I thought Willie did a really good job for us (Tuesday). Not just in the first half on the defensive end, but then being a playmaker there in the second half.
“He made the right reads and then also when he was available to take it to the rim, he did. But I thought he was great. I thought he did a really good job starting for us. I thought DP did a good job coming off the bench for us.”
Cauley-Stein finished with two points, two rebounds and one steal in 17 minutes, while Powell was scoreless and also had one rebound in nine minutes.