Not long after the NBA season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kristaps Porzingis went home to Latvia for some much-needed rest and relaxation.
The Mavericks’ power forward/center played 51 games this season after more than 20 months recuperating from anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his right knee on Feb. 13, 2018, when he was with New York.
The four months off this summer enabled Porzingis to sort of hit the reset button and get his mind and body ready for the grit and grind of the restart to the season later this month.
“It’s just more time to heal more stuff that was hurting,” Porzingis said following Wednesday’s practice inside the NBA bubble in Orlando. “I also got a good break from the season.
“I was able to go back home and be with my family and be with my friends and just be on my home soil, which is always a good feeling.”
With five training camp practices under their belts since arriving in Orlando last week, it’s clear to the Mavs that Porzingis is ready to pick up where he left off when the season was interrupted. So far this season, Porzingis is averaging 19.2 points and is 15th in the league in rebounds with 9.5 per game.
“He’s had a great five days of practice — he’s been terrific,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s been very great at both ends.
“Offensively, I really love the way that he is using the space on the floor. He’s mixing up rolls and pops, and he’s really getting a great chemistry with his teammates.”
Carlisle also expects Porzingis’ defensive game to carry over to the season’s restart. The 7-3, 240-pounder ranks fifth in the league in blocks at 2.1 per contest.
“Defensively, he’s really one of the best rim protectors in the game, and we’re seeing that in the practices as well,” Carlisle said.
Porzingis reminisced back to this season’s opening day, his first game since in 20 months. The fourth-year veteran acknowledged that he didn’t have any concerns leading up to his Mavs’ debut, but admitted that there were a lot of obvious moving parts.
“I think it was just a matter of time with me finding the rhythm with these guys, with a new group, with a new coach and a new system,” Porzingis said. “And obviously in my mind I thought I was going to just jump right into it and just get going right away, so my expectations were (high).
“And I could feel from people around me that were kind of trying to calm me down a little bit — that if things don’t go exactly how I planned, then I’m not mad.”
In that 108-100 victory over Washington in the opener, Porzingis had 23 points and four rebounds in 29 minutes. During a five-game stretch before the All-Star break when point guard Luka Doncic was out nursing an ankle injury, Porzingis averaged 28.8 points and 10 rebounds.
That includes a 35-point, 12-rebound performance against the Houston Rockets, a 38-point, 12-rebound outing against the Indiana Pacers, and a 32-point, 12-rebound effort against the Memphis Grizzlies. All three of those teams are in Orlando and would advance to the playoffs if it started today.
“It’s pretty clear to me that as we’ve moved along farther in time, he just feels more in rhythm,” Carlisle said. “His conditioning looks real good, and the connection and the chemistry with teammates continues to really be there.”
Porzingis echoed that sentiment while making his transition from the Knicks to the Mavs look seamless.
“Things weren’t going my way right away, but slowly as the season went on I got into more of a rhythm and started playing at the level that I know I can play, and even better,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to just getting back right into that.
“But in terms of the health, I never really had any concerns and I felt good from Day One.”
Inside the bubble, Porzingis visited the hotel room of center Boban Marjanovic last week and was able to get in on some fun.
“Boban has a whole setup for video games, and that (hotel room visit) was right after we got out of the two-day quarantine that we had to sit in our room,” Porzingis said. “I was just going from room to room and seeing what everybody is doing, and (Boban) had this video game setup and I was just like, “(Boban), let me play a little bit,’ so I played a little bit.”
Porzingis said he didn’t take his video game setup for the long stay in Orlando, because he doesn’t play as much as he used to. He occupies his time more by reading books and doing other things.
“I got into reading,” Porzingis said. “I’m more of a YouTube guy. I watch a lot of YouTube videos, I try to read whenever I’ve got the patience, and then just hang out with my teammates.
“This is a good moment for us to get to know each other more, spend time together and go for dinners. We don’t have anything else to do, so we’ve been going to dinners and just having fun with each other.”
And patiently waiting for the July 31 restart to the season against the Rockets.
“It’s like a quick restart,” Porzingis said. “We just refresh our minds and get back to business and do what we love.”