Luka Dončić is fighting a cervical strain.
Who knew it was contagious?
Seems like every Maverick now suffers from a pain in the neck, courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers’ defense.
Dončić played through his achy left shoulder, back and neck but clearly wasn’t himself on Sunday night. Neither were most of his teammates as the Mavericks got snuffed by the Clippers, who got 29 points from Kawhi Leonard to power a 106-81 victory Sunday night at American Airlines Center.
Instead of taking this series by the throat on their home floor, the Mavericks have frittered away all the momentum they generated with two wins in LA, which suddenly seem like a very long time ago.
Now, they are going back to Staples Center for Game 5 Wednesday tied at two wins apiece. It’s turned into a best-of-three and the Mavericks know they will have to win at least once more in LA. The team that wins Game 5 of a 2-2 best-of-seven series advances to the next round 82.5 percent of the time (174-37).
The good news is there will be at least one more home game this season for the Mavericks, since Game 6 Friday is now assured.
Then again, maybe that’s not the good news, given the events of the weekend. And this whole series, as the road team is 4-0.
The Clippers can thank their defense for allowing them to climb back into this series. They simply stifled the Mavericks, who never found a rhythm. Their point total was their lowest this season (previously 87).
The Clippers also took advantage of Dončić’s aching neck. He didn’t not use that as an excuse, but it obviously was the hottest topic after the blowout loss.
“Injuries are part of basketball,” Dončić said. “I played terrible. So we just got to move on to the next one.
“The pain is in the neck and the nerve down. I don’t really know how to explain that. But it felt way better today than yesterday. I’ll just keep doing massages, ice it down and be ready for Wednesday.”
Coach Rick Carlisle said that having two days off between games should help. But he thought the Mavericks’ superstar point guard was clearly impacted by the neck injury.
“He’s in pain,” Carlisle said. “It appeared to me that he couldn’t turn left, couldn’t look to his left, couldn’t turn his neck to the left. And that’s difficult for a guy that relies on peripheral vision and basically has played his whole life with his neck on a swivel.
“We got to hope in the next couple days that he can get better, hopefully substantially better. There is a two-day break between games, which is a positive in this case. It’s a positive for both teams if you got guys beat up and banged up, which I’m sure both teams do on some level. But his neck issue certainly contributed to a 9-for-24 night and him having some real unusual struggles.”
Struggles, like 0-for-5 at the free-throw line. Struggles, like owning half of the Mavericks’ eight turnovers and shooting 1-of-7 from 3-point range.
It didn’t help that the Clippers’ defense was a step quicker than anything the Mavericks were doing offensively.
They had an atrocious 3-point shooting night and the Clippers suffocated them whenever they tried to go inside. Leonard was a beast and Paul George had another strong game. The Clippers also got nice production from many of their role players, including Nic Batum, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Morris Sr.
Luka had 19 points, but his usual efficiency was missing. So were most of his teammates. Kristaps Porzingis had 18 points, but it was a losing battle almost from the start.
The Mavericks never really had a handle on this game. The Clippers took a lead early and it grew faster than your backyard grass after all the recent rain. When the Clippers scored the first six points of the third quarter, they were up 67-45.
It got no prettier from there for the Mavericks. Their 3-point shooting never came around. And they weren’t that much better inside the arc, either. Pretty much the entire Mavericks’ team couldn’t locate the net with a GPS.
The Mavericks shot 34.8 percent from the field and were just 5-for-30 from 3-point land (16.7 percent).
Their ball movement was not crisp and their rebounding was worse (53-41 in favor of the Clips).
The lone exception was Boban Marjanović, who came into the game early to a loud ovation as coach Rick Carlisle was trying anything he could think of. Marjanović actually was by far the Mavericks’ most productive bench player and the only Maverick with a positive plus-minus while he was on the floor.
“As badly as it went, I saw a lot of positives – a lot of guys trying to do the right things,” Carlisle said. “We had a very poor shooting night and had some good looks.
“We got to work at defending better. That’s obvious. And that’s where it’s at. It’s pretty simple. It’s a matchup-based series, and I just feel like we got to work to get more traction defensively. That’s really the main focus for us.”
And hope Mother Nature is kind to Luka.