As we thankfully close in on the turning of the calendar, it hurts to reflect on 2020, which certainly makes the short list for worst year ever.
It hurts even more when the hits just keep on coming, like they did on Christmas.
With the Mavericks in Los Angeles, where the legend of Kobe Bryant remains strong 11 months after his tragic death, there was more bad news Friday with the passing of legendary coach K.C. Jones.
He played for and coached the Boston Celtics, won a dozen – yes, 12 – championship rings in his career and was the first coach Rick Carlisle had in the NBA.
“A very sad day for a lot of us,” Carlisle said before the Mavericks-Lakers game Christmas evening. “I played for him for three years in Boston. Wonderful man. Wonderful basketball man. I lost count of the championships he won as a player and a coach.
“I connected with a lot of guys from our ’86 team game today to talk about it. He’ll be very much missed.”
To this day, Carlisle said things he learned from Jones still influence him.
“He was a man of few words and when he spoke, his words always had meaning,” he said. “And one thing I learned from him and I try to put in play myself is to measure the amount of talking you do. Make sure the things you say are pertinent and meaningful. And to care about people. He was a guy you always knew cared about the guys he coached. Just a very special human being.”
And yet another loss in 2020.
Though life brings no guarantees, everybody hopes that 2021 offers better times for everybody.
Remember, 2020 started with the deaths of NBA commissioner David Stern and Bryant in January. And that was before the coronavirus crisis trumped everything.
On Christmas, it was a good time to look back, especially about Bryant as the Mavericks played the first of two games in Bryant’s house, Staples Center.
“My memories (of Kobe), a lot of them are difficult because he would hit big shots and break your heart in certain instances,” Carlisle said. “But he was an amazing competitor and he had great respect for those who competed to his level and occasionally beyond his level.”
For instance, Carlisle said, 2011 when the Mavericks swept the Lakers in the playoffs on their way to the championship was an eye-opening experience for him with regard to Bryant.
“He was most gracious and just personally, whenever I ran into him in ensuing years, he would always come up with a firm handshake, how’s the family doing – just a respectful guy,” Carlisle said. “And I have the utmost respect for him. In the months since the tragedy as a father of a 16-year-old daughter, the images of him and his daughters and Gigi in particular, they really sink in if you’re a girl-dad like me.”
Porzingis “weeks” away: Carlisle said that 7-3 center Kristaps Porzingis has been ramping up his activity on the trip, but that the timetable for a return from his October right-knee surgery remains uncertain.
“He’s making progress all the time,” Carlisle said. “At this point, I’m confident in saying it’s weeks, not months. But that’s all I’m going to tell you.”
That’s in keeping with the statements during training camp that it would be at least January before Porzingis was ready to get back on the floor.
“He’s had two days where he’s played,” Carlisle said. “He played half-court two-on-two and yesterday he played about 30 minutes of four-on-four, which was great. And he did well.
“But he has a ways to go. And we got to try to get him enough practice reps during a (time) when quality practice time is probably going to be more difficult to come by because of the schedule. But he’s doing better.”
Carlisle added that the Mavericks’ obvious problems with the Lakers’ physicality during the 138-115 LA win on Christmas won’t simply go away with any player returning.
It’s going to take more.
“He (Porzingis) is going to help us a lot, there’s no question about it,” he said. “But we got to get tougher.”
What really matters: The Mavericks are like everybody else. They’ve learned just what’s important in 2020.
Carlisle said he has become acutely aware of what he believes is the most precious commodity we have.
“We’ve all learned a lot about our world and the fragile nature of life,” he said. “There’s so much going on in the world. If you follow the financial side of it, somehow the stock market continues to do well. Cryptocurrency is becoming a big part of our financial culture.
“But when you think about it, the most important currency we have is time. And we have to use it the best way possible.”
In the Mavericks’ case, that means making the most with a young team that is carrying with it oodles of hope thanks to the greatness of Luka Dončić.
“One of the things that’s daunting is that where we’re trying to get to eventually, which is a championship-level team, the steps you have to go through to get there,” Carlisle said. “For us, Wednesday (the loss to Phoenix) was another one of those steps, some misteps in some areas that are basics. We tried to address those and move forward. We’re looking forward to this challenge today.”
They’ll have to wait for the next challenge, which comes at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday against the Clippers.
But the good news is that the Mavericks understand that they are starting this season with some of the most difficult games of the first three months of scheduling.
“Our opening schedule is super-challenging, obviously, these three games on the road to start (and 11 of their first 16 on the road),” he said. “We’ve got to constantly remind ourselves to stay in the present, focus on each individual play, involve each other, play together and do the right things. That process will help lead us to the success we’d like to experience.”
Briefly: The Lakers outscored the Mavericks in second-chance points 35-0. They’re the first team to score 35-plus second-chance points and skunk their opponent since at least 1997 . . . It also was the most second-chance points the Lakers have scored since Nov. 12, 1996 (35 at Houston) . . . The Mavericks’ 27 rebounds were five off the franchise record for fewest in a game. They had 22 against Miami in 2017.