The Dallas Mavericks were without their two best players during Saturday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans as point guard Luka Doncic and forward/center Kristaps Porzingis sat out for different reasons.
Doncic, the Mavs’ precocious 22-year old third-year veteran, didn’t play due to an illness, while Porzingis was sidelined because of injury recovery of his right knee.
During his press conference prior to the 112-103 loss to the Pelicans, coach Rick Carlisle said: “Luka is not going to be available tonight due to illness – non-Covid related. He wasn’t feeling well.
“We sent him back to the hotel, so he is out.”
This was the second straight game Doncic has missed after he also sat out Friday’s 109-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers because of lower back tightness. In addition, Carlisle isn’t sure if Doncic will be ready to play when the Mavs face the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday night.
“In terms of Luka’s illness, how could I possibly predict whether it’s going to be longer or shorter or whatever,” Carlisle asked. “We certainly hope it’s not serious. We don’t believe it is.
“But that’s all I can tell you. That’s all I’ve been told.”
While Doncic’s return is uncertain, there is no mystery when it comes to Porzingis, who scored 31 points and collected a career-high tying 18 rebounds while playing a season-high 38 minutes against the Pacers.
“KP is out – injury recovery, and so we’re down to a somewhat limited roster,” Carlisle said before Saturday’s game. “It’ll be a next man up situation.”
Porzingis underwent surgery on Oct. 9 to address a lateral meniscus injury of his right knee and the Mavs have been careful not to overwork the six-year veteran. Also, Carlisle said Porzingis could have played against the Pelicans, then added: “But we’re not playing him. We just feel it’s the best thing for the team and for him.
“And when I say the team, I’m talking the big picture of the season. That’s where we are.”
Carlisle said he’s still optimistic about, at some point, consistently playing Porzingis on back-to-back nights. So far this season, Porzingis has played both ends of a back-to-back on two occasions.
Back on Jan. 17, Porzingis finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes during a 117-101 loss to the Chicago Bulls. On the very next night, he contributed 23 points, nine boards and two blocks in 32 minutes during a 116-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Also, in 34 minutes in a 122-116 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 3, Porzingis finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. And on Feb. 4 he collected 25 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes during a 147-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Thus, Porzingis has been able to revel in some individual success when he plays on back-to-back nights. Meanwhile, the next time the Mavs play games on back-to-back nights is Friday at the New York Knicks and Apr. 3 at the Washington Wizards.
“Every day this year is kind of a different day,” Carlisle said. “Whether we’re in Minnesota and our hotel rooms are flooding, or we’re here and we get bad news about Luka not feeling well, there’s something coming up all the time and we’ve got to be light on our feet, nimble, quick.
“We’ve got to focus on what we have and not what we don’t have and keep going. That’s what this year is about.”
The Mavs are now 0-3 this season when both Doncic and Porzingis miss the same game. That’s a riddle they know they’ll have to solve just in case it comes up again.
“You’re talking about two focal points of our team,” said guard Jalen Brunson, who scored 24 points while starting in Doncic’s place. “As long as you keep fighting instead of giving up, it’s something that we can build off of, but we’ve got to find ways.”
Center Boban Marjanovic, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes while filling the starting spot normally handled by Porzingis, admitted it was tough for the Mavs trying to win without their two main players.
“Of course we miss them a lot and it’ll be much easier when they would play,” Marjanovic said. “But I think we gave a good effort, a great effort — every single guy who was on the court.
“It would have been much easier to score (with Doncic and Porzingis) and do some great things.”