A rugged, playoff-style game left the Mavericks with aches and pains but also a feeling with which they haven’t been familiar for a long, long time.
They no longer are in seventh place.
It’s been a long, laborious climb, but the Mavericks survived a 115-110 battle against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night at American Airlines Center and when it was over, they had crept even with the Portland Trail Blazers for sixth place in the Western Conference.
While the Blazers own the tiebreaker, it’s still progress, the sort of thing that hasn’t happened often enough this season. At 32-26, the Mavericks also are within two games in the loss column of the fifth-place Lakers.
And while the Mavericks will have to sweat out news regarding the severity of an injured left ankle to Kristaps Porzingis, they took care of business on a night that required them to get down and dirty with the Lakers.
“We’re in a dogfight right now with the whole thing – everything from seedings to difficult games, you name it,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
Added Luka Dončić: “We got to come out every game like we did tonight, playing hard.
“We’re just trying to get into the playoffs, no matter how. We’ll try to keep moving up.”
Dončić had 30 points to lead six Mavericks in double figures against the Lakers, who welcomed back superstar big man Anthony Davis for a brief first-half stint but still were without LeBron James.
That didn’t keep them from pushing the Mavericks to the limit.
And it didn’t help that Porzingis went down late in the third quarter clutching his left ankle. Earlier in that quarter, he had taken a knee to the groin area that doubled him over for a considerable amount of time.
But that was the least of his worries. Porzingis left the court and did not return. The Mavericks’ next game is Saturday’s rematch against the Lakers at AAC.
““He rolled it,” Carlisle said. “(We’re) uncertain as to the severity. We’re hoping it’s not too severe. I don’t think he’s been ruled out for Saturday, yet. But with ankles, a lot of it is about how a player is feeling the next morning. We’ll see where he is (Friday).
“He was in pretty good spirits after the game and he is walking. He’s not in a boot or anything at this point, although he has it wrapped with some elastic tape. So my hope is it’s not a real bad situation.”
When Porzingis went out, the Mavericks were behind 86-83. But they rallied to take a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter. The advantage teetered between four and nine points for the final 12 minutes.
“KP’s a huge part of our team, but I think we’re all confident in the rest of our big (guys) and the rest of our players,” said Josh Richardson. “When he went out, everybody kind of came together and said we have to pick up the slack.”
Saturday’s game will determine the tiebreaker between the Mavericks and Lakers, who beat the Mavericks in LA on Christmas.
Yes, James remains out for the Lakers. And Davis was limited to less than 17 first-half minutes in his first action after missing 30 games – the longest stretch of inactivity in his career – with a calf injury.
But that didn’t keep this from being a physical, competitive game virtually throughout.
Davis was not his normal self, which was to be expected. He had four points and four assists. He was just 2-of-10 from the field.
It was a reminder that this will be a slow rebuild for the Lakers, who many still presume to be one of the heavy favorites for the NBA title despite their injury woes.
Vogel said he knows how difficult it will be to get the Lakers championship-worthy. They added a key big man in Andre Drummond earlier this month and Thursday was the first time either Davis or James had played with him. James still does not have a timetable for his return.
“I don’t think it’s an ideal situation by any stretch from the standpoint of those guys returning from injury and having enough time to get their conditioning and rhythm and timing where it needs to be,” Vogel said. “Nor is it enough time to integrate a main piece like Andre Drummond with those guys.
“But this is just going to be an imperfect season, this is the hand we’re dealt and we have to make the best of it.”
Words that every team, including the Mavericks, are having to live by as they found out again with the latest injury to Porzingis.