If the Mavericks needed another reason to be grateful for having a nice break without dealing with the NBA’s play-in tournament, they got it with Maxi Kleber’s health situation.

The 6-10 center/forward sat out Friday’s regular-season home finale against Toronto because of the right Achilles soreness that has bothered him off and on for several weeks.

Kleber, usually the starter at center alongside Kristaps Porzingis when both are healthy, sat out four games last week with the Achilles issue. He came back for two games, but clearly didn’t look like himself Wednesday against New Orleans.

Having clinched a playoff berth, the Mavericks have the luxury of resting Kleber again on Sunday at Minnesota in the final regular-season game, if they so choose. Then they’d have at least five days off before opening the playoffs against either Denver or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Coach Rick Carlisle said he and the medical staff will proceed cautiously with Kleber, one of the best defenders on the team because of his ability to switch off of bigger players and onto guards.

“He’s been battling a lot of little things on and off,” Carlisle said. “This Achilles thing has been ‘manageable’ to an extent. But it’s got into a bit of a yo-yo – good days, bad days thing.

“It’s tough on any players. And it’s tough for a guy who really depends on his quickness to guard smaller guys on switches, to protect the rebound, rebound, those kind of things.”

Kleber missed 11 games early in the season with COVID-19 protocols. But other than that, he’s been one of the most durable Mavericks since joining them four seasons back.

“Taking this game, hopefully will kind of move it back in the right direction,” Carlisle said. “And we’ll see where we are Sunday. It’s obviously a very important stretch. But we have depth on this team and it’ll be next man up.”

In addition, guard J.J. Redick was ruled out of the remaining regular season games earlier this week.

Nail-biting finish: The Mavericks are involved in a tight race for playoff positioning, but they aren’t the only ones.

Throughout the standings, teams are angling for their optimal position, whether it be in the playoffs that start May 22 or the play-in tournament that begins on Tuesday.

“I would be lying if I told you we weren’t paying attention to that stuff,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said.

It’s hard not to because it has been the dominant storyline down the stretch of the season.

“Look, it’s great for our league,” Carlisle said. “It’s consumed social media. It’s consumed the internet. The league’s getting amazing attention with how close and competitive it is. Those are all great things.

“The way I look at it is we all have to embrace the competitiveness of this. It does get nerve-wracking for everyone. But these are the moments that you really learn how to focus and block things out and that’s how we’re going to have to proceed.”

Carlisle said it’s understandable how players get caught up in watching scoreboards and the standings.
“You can look at the games on any given night and you can analyze things six ways to Sunday about how this affects this and that,” he said. “But really, you got to control what you can control. And we have to control how we approach these last games and go in with a strong mindset.”

Briefly: The Mavericks haven’t been leaving things to chance lately. Seven of their last nine victories have been by double-digit margins . . . Kristaps Porzingis racked up his 16th double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Raptors.

Twitter: @ESefko

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