Christian Wood’s timing could not have been better.
Just when the Mavericks needed a big hug, the backup big man came with open arms – as well as open three-pointers and open runs to the rim.
As many fans have been hoping for all season, Wood got an increased opportunity on Friday because of Maxi Kleber’s hamstring injury.
Wood made the most of it. He had 20 first-half points, 15 in the second quarter when the Mavericks took charge and powered to a 130-110 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Friday night at American Airlines Center.
The Mavericks are going to have to find ways to pick up the slack created by Kleber’s injury. Wood gave them a terrific starting point.
And, of course, it helps when Luka Dončić takes the baton when Wood takes a break. Dončić finished with 33 points, nine assists and six rebounds and was happy to have Wood as his sidekick with season-best 32 points and 12 boards, which tied his season high.
“I thought C-Wood was great, offensively and defensively,” coach Jason Kidd said. “Being able to play through him in the second quarter was huge for us.
“Talking to him yesterday, he’s starting to feel comfortable on the defensive end, which showed this evening. He was huge for us. Being able to get rebounds and being able to play through him . . . for 13, 14 straight minutes there, he was good.”
Wood lit up the Blazers with 6-of-10 shooting and was terrific on the offensive end during the Mavericks’ strong second-quarter, which actually started with a Dončić three pointer on their last possession of the first quarter. Then they had a 41-point second quarter to turn a one-point deficit into a 72-63 advantage.
In a heartbeat, the advantage grew to 83-65 early in the third quarter. When Luka found Wood on the pick and roll for a jam with 7:35 to go in the third, the score had ballooned to 90-70, then went to 95-70.
“I was trying to be aggressive,” Wood said postgame. “The team knew I had it going. We kept running the same play over and over and over because, frankly, they couldn’t really stop it. My teammates trust me to score and that’s what I was brought here for and I feel like I did a great job today.”
It was all for show after the third quarter, especially after Luka took a pass and went flying down the lane for a one-handed slam that got the crowd and the bench on their feet.
“I’m used to it,” he deadpanned afterward. “I have the most bounce on the team.”
That was sure to get some feedback from his teammates, and it didn’t take long.
“That was nice,” Wood said. “We’ve been having a conversation. He thinks he has more bounce than me. I told him there’s not a chance in hell. But that was a good dunk.”
It put an exclamation point on the Mavericks’ dominance on this night as they nosed back over .500 at 15-14 while the Blazers fell to 16-13 in the jam-packed Western Conference standings.
Even Kidd took notice of the tomahawk dunk.
“It was pretty impressive,” he said. “He can get off the ground. It’s impressive that, the load he carries and things he can do, he can still surprise you with something. That was big time.”
The downer on the night came when Dwight Powell limped off the court and into the locker room. Kidd said later that: “He’s hurt. That’s all I can tell you,” adding that Powell is probably out for Saturday’s second half of back-to-back games at Cleveland.
The Blazers had won three in a row and five of six coming into AAC. They started this six-game trip with a 16-point win at San Antonio on Wednesday.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, were trying to shake off the aftereffects of Kleber’s right hamstring injury, which will sideline him indefinitely.
The Mavericks entered Friday with a 1-5 record in games Kleber has missed this season. They are 13-9 when the versatile, 6-10 veteran has played.
And, in the tightly bunched Western Conference, every injury could be big when it comes to the standings.
“The parity is incredible in the Western Conference,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “I don’t think there’s one team that’s that much better than seven, eight (other) teams, to be honest with you.
“Obviously, health is a big thing. But on a bad week, a three-game losing streak, you can go from two to nine or 10. And I really think it’s going to be that way most of the year. Maybe not that exaggerated, but pretty close.”
The Mavericks are part of a major jumble in the West as eight teams are within 2½ games of each other. They came into Friday’s action in places four through 11, meaning that one of them would have home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series and one of them wouldn’t even make the play-in tournament.
That’s how close things are as the second third of the season commences.
So situations like Kleber’s injury could make a big difference.
But it also opens the door for Wood, who barged right through it on Friday.
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