On a night when the Dallas Mavericks welcomed back one of their starting big men, the franchise was dealt a serious blow when another big man suffered what may be a season-ending injury.
Kristaps Porzingis returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers after missing 10 games with right knee soreness. But that good news took a back seat to a debilitating injury suffered by Dwight Powell, who injured his right Achilles late in the first quarter of the 110-107 loss to the Clippers.
When Powell went down in a heap on a non-contact play as he started a drive to the basket from the right side with less than three minutes left in the first quarter, the American Airlines Center sellout crowd of 19,783 went virtually silent.
“It’s a somber night with the Dwight situation,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s going to have an MRI tomorrow.
“It’s feared to be severe, but we won’t know for sure until a diagnostic test is done. It’s a real tough one.”
The loss snapped the Mavs’ four-game winning streak and dropped them to 27-16, while the Clippers improved to 31-13. But losing the game pales in comparison to losing Powell, who has been a rock-solid starting center this season.
Carlisle even compared it to losing guard J.J. Barea, who suffered a torn right Achilles tendon injury during a Jan. 11, 2019 road contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves and missed the remainder of the season. The Mavs fear Powell likely will be facing that same tough road back.
“He’s one of the soldiers of the franchise, really,” Carlisle said of Powell. “But he’s an upbeat guy and if the news ends up being the worst news, we’ve seen how Barea recovered, and Barea’s playing beautifully.
“So, Dwight will get back there. We don’t know yet. We’ll find out more tomorrow.”
In the game itself, Porzingis was playing for the first time since Dec. 29. And it was obvious that the 7-3 forward was a bit rusty as he finished the game with 10 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes, and was only 4-of-17 from the field, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
“I was eager to get back on the court,” Porzingis said. “I’ve been shooting a lot these days leading up to the game and I felt pretty good.
“I felt just kind of fluid, especially at the end when I had those two open threes (and missed them). It was just so flat. Some of those shots – maybe early in the game – I was just a little too anxious to shoot and make it.”
The Mavs trailed 60-49 at the half and fought back from a 14-point deficit and took a 96-94 lead after Luka Doncic drilled a pair of free throws with 4:05 remaining. But the Clippers proceeded to go on a swift 14-4 run and forged ahead, 108-100, following a bucket by Kawhi Leonard, who had a stellar night with 36 points and 11 rebounds.
Dallas had a chance to tie the game when they managed to get within 108-105. But Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 3-pointer with 16 seconds left rimmed in and out after he received a pass from Doncic.
“Tim was wide-open,” Carlisle said. “I thought it was a great decision (for Doncic to pass the ball to Hardaway) the way Tim’s shooting the ball. It was a great play.
“In that kind of situation, end of a game against a team playing as good of defense as the Clippers, it could be anybody that’s open for a shot. But I thought that was a great play. Tim had the thing right online — just unlucky. In and out.”
The Mavs had another opportunity to make things interesting. But still trailing by three points, Doncic missed the first of two free throws with 7.4 seconds left, and intentionally missed the second attempt, which was rebounded by Leonard, who promptly drilled a pair of charity tosses to seal the game with six seconds remaining.
“There were plenty of positives in the game in terms of how we were competing,” Carlisle said. “We did a lot of good things. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
Doncic led the Mavs with 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, Hardaway had 13 points, and Boban Marjanovic finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Leonard got support from Landry Shamet with 18 points, Lou Williams with 16 points and Montrezl Harrel with 12 points and nine boards.
The Mavs held the Clippers to 37.1 percent shooting from the field and 31.6 percent shooting from beyond the 3-point arc. But the Mavs missed 31 of their 43 baskets from 3-point land, and were outrebounded 57-49, including 20-12 on the offensive end.
Both teams came out sluggish as the Mavs misfired on their first 11 shots, while the Clippers opened the game 1-of-9 from the floor.
However, the big story was the news regarding Powell’s injury and the impact his loss will have going forward for perhaps the rest of this season.
“He’s a constant team-first guy, constant worker,” Carlisle said of Powell. “Guys like him define the culture that we want here. It doesn’t get much tougher than this if it ends up being what we fear it might, but he will be back, regardless.
“There’s just some guys you know, who have a level of resourcefulness, a level of fight in them. Barea’s one of them. Powell’s another. He’ll be back.”