Always one who loves to entertain and perform before an enthusiastic crowd, that won’t be the case for Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic or any other player when the NBA resumes play on July 30 in Orlando.
Doncic and his cohorts will perform their craft without fans in the stand for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus pandemic. That can be a game-changer for those who feed off the energy of the fans.
When asked during Thursday’s Zoom conference call with over 60 members of the media how he’ll adjust to playing without fans in the arena to give him a boost, Doncic said: “Honestly, I don’t know because I’ve never experienced this thing. It’s going to be worse, for sure.
“I enjoy very much the fans in the gym. As our opponents are playing at our home, there’s always noise. “
However, when the Mavs tip-off the restart of their 2019-20 season on July 31 against the Houston Rockets, neither Mavs Man, Champ, the Mavs Drumline or the Mavs ManiAACs will be in Orlando with them for any of their remaining eight regular season games or playoff run.
And that’s a puzzling thought for Doncic to digest.
“It’s going to be weird, so I don’t know how I’m going to feel,” Doncic said. “Obviously it’s going to feel really weird without the fans, but I‘ll just do the same routine, same as always.”
Maybe, but the autograph session near the American Airlines Center tunnel that’s always been a part of Doncic’s pre-game ritual won’t be taking place in Orlando. Some players have opted out of playing in the restart of the season for various reasons, but that was never under consideration for Doncic.
“No, I never hesitated,” he said. “I always wanted to play. I miss basketball a lot, so I just want to play.
“There was no question about me. I was going to play.”
When the season was postponed on March 11 in the wake the coronavirus, Doncic was sixth in the NBA in scoring with 28.7 points, 19th in rebounding with 9.3, and fourth in assists with 8.7. He also was leading the league in triple-doubles with 14.
A self-proclaimed gym rat, Doncic’s world is seriously connected to basketball, and rightfully so. He was the EuroLeague regular season and Final Four Most Valuable Player while leading Real Madrid to the championship in 2018.
Doncic won the league’s Rookie of the Year award last season in a landslide. In addition, Doncic’s name was mentioned in the league’s MVP conversation earlier this season.
So, when he was back home in Slovenia and locked away from basketball as the coronavirus made its way around the world, Doncic said what he missed most was: “Not being able to play basketball. Obviously, some of the things — not being able to go out.
“In Slovenia, everything was closed. When I left, some places started to open, but obviously the thing for me was not being able to play basketball. But I was really glad that I went home to see my friends, see my family. Now I’m back and just started practicing.”
Doncic said he played some tennis and soccer while the NBA was suspended. He’s happy to be back at the Mavs’ practice facilities, although players are limited to playing one-on-one basketball.
“Obviously, we would like to play against each other – play some pickup, three-on-three,” Doncic said. “But obviously we can’t. But it was great to be back and just practicing.”
As to whether the over four months off between games favors a young wet-behind-the-ears team like the Mavs or an older and veteran team like the Los Angeles Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers, Doncic doesn’t see a distinct advantage one way or the other.
“I think a lot of people had some small injuries – they weren’t 100 percent,” he said. “So I think to those people, to those players, the break really helped.
“We’ll see what happens in Orlando how we play. We’ll see if (the long layoff) helps or not.”
The Mavs were 40-27 and in seventh place in the Western Conference standings when the season was suspended. They also are just two-and-a-half games behind the Jazz, who are seeded fourth in the West with a 41-23 record.
So, do the Mavs have what it takes to run down and overtake the Jazz – with only eight games to do so?
“We just want to win as many games as possible,” Doncic said. “Just go in there without pressure, having fun playing basketball and hopefully we can reach our goal.
“We just got to keep playing fun basketball and just keep playing together.”
Doncic would like to also keep staying on the same page with forward Kristaps Porzingis, as was the case when the season was suspended. That duo had gradually become one of the best young one-two punches in the NBA.
“I would say we have pretty good chemistry,” Doncic said. “Obviously, we’re doing only individual work right now, but before the season ended we had good chemistry. We’re going to keep it growing every game, every day.”
Meanwhile, when the Mavs depart for Orlando on Wednesday, Doncic and his teammates won’t be able to see their family until the second round of the playoffs. And that may not be until the second or third week of August.
“We’re going to go there and I’m not going to see my family and my friends for a long time — except after the first round they can come,” Doncic said. “So it’s going to be emotional.”
As emotional as not being able to play with fans in the stands.