The Mavericks will play the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday.
But after Luka Dončić limped off the court in the third quarter of Sunday’s 130-120 win over San Antonio at American Airlines Center, the opponent wasn’t as important as the health of the Mavericks heading into the postseason.
Dončić left the court with 2:24 left in the third quarter after injuring his left calf during an offensive possession. He quickly grabbed at his calf and asked for the Mavericks to call a timeout.
He limped to the locker room with the help of director of athletic performance Casey Smith. The superstar point guard was diagnosed with a left calf strain and did not return to the game.
The Mavericks will have six days off as Game 1 of the series against Utah is at noon on Saturday at AAC.
“We’ll know more tomorrow,” coach Jason Kidd said of Luka after the game. “They were going to (get) their normal run the second half because it’s a week (layoff before Game 1). So we just felt we’d keep the regular rotation and they’d be done by the third quarter and go from there. I thought he was cramping up, but I haven’t talked to Casey. Hopefully it’s not too serious.
“But with that being said, injuries are part of the game. We’ll see how he feels. The good news is that we have won home court and we have a week before we play.”
Dončić has a history of being a tough competitor with a strong pain tolerance. Clearly the coming days will be critical in his recovery.
But his running mate in the backcourt said that he’s got a good feeling about Dončić being ready when the playoffs begin Saturday.
“For some reason, I feel like he’ll be ready to go, knowing the competitor he is,” said Jalen Brunson, who had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Spurs. “I feel like he’ll be ready. It’s unfortunate, but a competitor like that, you can’t keep down for long.”
Brunson chatted briefly with Luka after the game.
“He’s probably a little upset that he’s hurt,” Brunson said. “I shook his hand, asked if he was good, he said: yeah. We looked at each other, nodded. But like I said, I feel he’ll be ready. It’s playoff basketball now. No one’s going to sit. If you can play, you play. He’s a competitor, he’ll be ready.”
Before he left, Luka was working on a typically strong game with 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in just 29 minutes.
The first round of the NBA playoffs wasn’t set until the final buzzers sounded at multiple games late Sunday night. But when the Mavericks downed the Spurs, coupled with the Warriors winning at New Orleans and Utah drubbing Portland, the Mavericks and Jazz first-round series became official as the No. 4 vs. No. 5 seeds in the Western Conference.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Kidd said. “They’re well coached. They got all-stars. And they’ve been together for a while. They’ve been through a lot of playoff games together. This is going to be a great test for us. It should be a tough series.”
The Mavericks and Jazz split their four games this season, both teams protecting their home court. Since the Mavericks will play four of the seven games, should the series go the distance, at AAC, that’s a factor in their favor.
Donovan Mitchell averaged 23.8 points in four meetings with the Mavericks, but they actually did a solid job containing Rudy Gobert, who averaged 12 points and 13.7 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Dončić averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and 7.7 assists against the Jazz.
Suffice it to say there will be plenty of star power in this series – assuming they all are healthy.
“I like that we have home court and I like where we are as a team mentally right now,” said Brunson, who helped the Mavericks win their final six home games and go 9-2 overall in their last 11 games.
“They (the Jazz) have a very good team and playoff experience. And they’ve done something we haven’t, and that’s win a playoff series. So I’m very excited for the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, the regular-season finale was entertaining throughout as both teams played their healthy players and went for the victory as opposed to resting their heavy lifters.
The Mavericks finished this season 4-0 against the Spurs, the first time in franchise history they have swept a season series over their Interstate 35 rivals.
In the end, or actually in the third quarter, the Mavericks pulled away to lead by as much as 21 points. The Spurs climbed back into it in the fourth quarter as Kidd pulled all his heavy lifters and went with deep reserves for the final seven minutes. Theo Pinson had 16 points off the bench.
But when Golden State’s win against New Orleans was assured, the Mavericks had no incentive to risk any more injuries.
As coach Jason Kidd said before the game: “Dress rehearsal’s over.”