After the Dallas Mavericks blew a 19-point lead and lost Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, now comes word that superstar point guard Luka Doncic is listed as questionable for Game 4 with a cervical strain.

Doncic complained that his neck was sore during Game 3, and the Mavs’ medical staff worked on it. During his Zoom session with the media on Saturday, coach Rick Carlisle said he didn’t know much more abut Doncic’s status other than to say:

“If you’re asking me if I think he’s going to play or not, I think he’s going to play. But we’ll see tomorrow. These things, day-to-day, you wake up the next morning it can be a heckuva lot worst than you thought, so we’ll see.”

When he wasn’t in Game 3, at times Doncic was on the bench receiving treatments on his neck and wincing. He said he’s not sure how the injury happened.

“It’s just weird,” Doncic said. “I turned, and I don’t know. Just some massage and some ice and hopefully I’m good.”

Although the Mavs lost Game 3 to the Clippers, 118-108, Doncic was absolutely spectacular – save for a few missed free throws. The third-year veteran scored 44 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had nine assists, was 15-of-28 from the field, 7-of-13 from beyond the 3-point arc, and 7-of-13 from the line.

For the series, the Clippers have been unable to contain Doncic as he’s averaged 38 points, 8.7 rebounds and nine assists. He’s also shooting 51.9 percent from the field for the series, 45.9 percent from 3-point range, but only 48.1percent (13-of-27) from the free throw line.

Undoubtedly, the Mavs desperately need Doncic for Game 4 – it tips off Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center – if they have designs on winning this series. The Mavs lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

“Questionable generally, from what I‘ve seen this year with other teams and our team, is more likely to play than not play in most cases,” Carlisle said. “I think he’s probably going to play and I hope he’s feeling better tomorrow.”

Mavs still have home court advantage: The Mavs used grit and determination to grind out two wins in Los Angeles during the first two games of this best-of-seven series. Now, after giving back one of those wins – thanks to Friday’s 118-108 loss at home to the Clippers – the Mavs know Game 4 takes on an even greater level of importance.

A win would give the Mavs a 3-1 lead in the series, while a lost would tie things at 2-2 and give home court advantage back to the Clippers.

“As I always say, we’ve got to focus on the process, which is going to be to once again try to get a good start and do a better job of sustaining,” Carlisle said. “It was a wonderful atmosphere last night. I mean, just amazing.

“I think that helped us get off to a good start. But we’ve got to do a better job of sustaining that, and that’ll certainly be a goal going into Game 4.”

A boisterous crowd of over 17,000 came through the AAC turnstiles for Game 3. It’s the largest in-person crowd to attend an NBA game since the Mavs sold out their March 11, 2020, home game against the Denver Nuggets.

After that game more than 14 months ago, the NBA suspended play due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall in this series, Carlisle explained that he’s been pleased with his team’s poise and composure, although things got a bit chippy in Game 3.

“Last night things got a little heated, but that’s going to happen a little bit,” Carlisle said. “Over the last several games of the season they were all must-win games, and every playoff game falls into that high importance category.

“It’s important to be aggressive, but maintain your poise, and I think that’s going to be a big key as we head into Game 4.”

Defense must be better: One of the key talking points from Game 3 is that the Mavs have to be much better on the defensive end of the floor during the remainder of this series.

The Clippers shot an incredible 57.9 percent from the field (44-of-76) and 41.9 percent from 3-point land (13-of-31) in Game 3. The Mavs know those numbers have to be significantly lower if they plan on winning this series.

“The first thing is we have to defend better,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Better defense is always going to create better opportunities offensively. It’s going to always naturally create more balance in your offense.

“We gave up 58 or 59 percent from the field, a high number from three and they shot their free throws really well (17-of-18), so team defense has got to be better. And there are some controllable things there that we’ve got to do better.”

While the Mavs got 44 points from Luka Doncic in Game 3, the Clippers were able to offset that with 36 points from Kawhi Leonard and 29 points from Paul George. Plus, Marcus Morris Sr. drilled three 3-pointers during a crucial time in the fourth quarter, and Reggie Jackson added four more hoops from downtown.

“They put you in tough situations with their two superstars and their shooting,” Carlisle said. “Everybody’s taken the brunt of that in Game 3. We’ve got to do a better job overall of defending situations better, making it tough on their great players, and try to run the shooters off the 3-point line.

“They’ve structured their team very well putting the best 3-point shooting team in the league around George and Leonard. And they’ve got a huge quality big man with (Ivica) Zubac.”

And that’s not all.

“In terms of their (Game 3) plan, they obviously made an effort to close off the paint more,” Carlisle said. “They did a good job.

“We only had 24 paint points and we need to get in there more. But again, with better defense we’re going to have more opportunities there.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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