The Mavericks have been without four key players for more than two weeks now.

A fifth, Jalen Brunson, just returned this week.

Coach Rick Carlisle is understandably cautious with what he says – and what he’s allowed to say – about the group of players that’s been sitting out with safety protocols related to the coronavirus.

But like fans, the Mavericks are thirsting for information about when some reinforcements might be forthcoming. Josh Richardson returned to Dallas from Denver this week. He had been quarantined there along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell.

The Mavericks have done a commendable job of staying afloat in their shorthanded state. But they are eager for some help.

“Some are closer than others,” Carlisle said of the four players still out because of the safety protocols. “Next week, we could see one or two guys trickle back into the mix. It’s uncertain. It’s unclear. It’s very fluid.

“There are a lot of medical things that need to be taken care of and they have to get back into workouts for a period of time before they’re cleared to play games. We’ll have to see. But the more the clock ticks, the better.”

While every individual case is different, Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. returned to the active roster Friday night. He’d been in the safety protocol program since Dec. 30, nine days before the Mavericks’ group entered it.

The Mavericks moved back above .500 with Friday’s win at San Antonio. At 8-7, they have survived without four rotation players, three of whom started in the last game before they were forced into isolation.

“Resilience is going to be the calling card of this team and any team that hopes to have success this year,” Carlisle said. “You’re going to have obstacles. My feeling is we’ve done a solid job with things.

“We’ve missed a lot of good players in a lot of games and we have good depth so we’ve been able to hold the fort. We just have to keep our eye on the ball.”

Brunson, who played his third game back after missing four because of safety protocols, said: “I think we’ve been doing a great job. Obviously, we had a couple letdowns. We had a three-game losing streak. We had a tough time but we’re on the right track now. We’re moving up.”

Pop offers Luka love: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has a reputation as an occasionally tough interview. But he came through with some terrific insight about Mavericks’ superstar Luka Dončić before Friday’s game.

Popovich was asked what aspect of Dončić’s game is the toughest to prepare for.

“This will sound sort of trite, but it’s true,” Popovich said. “He is a quintessential basketball player. He has an intrinsic feel for the game. He was built for this game. Also, he’d probably be a great team handball player.”

Then Popovich rattled off the assets Luka possesses that make him difficult to guard.

“At that size, to have that passing ability, that vision of the court, the confidence he plays with – he shoots the ball well, he competes. He’s just in love with the game of basketball. And his skills are top notch. He’s just a joy to watch.”

Coach in waiting? Popovich was among the first coaches to put a full-time female assistant coach on his staff with Becky Hammon.

The former WNBA star has been with the Spurs since 2014 and has steadily risen up the ranks to where she now is Popovich’s top assistant.

Most observers believe it’s only a matter of time until she becomes the league’s first female head coach.

“She’s on a great trajectory,” Carlisle said. “She’s had a lot of interviews. I know that she’s done very well in interviews from things I’ve hard from people that have talked to her. I believe that she’s going to get there. And when she does, it’s going to be another piece of history.”

Briefly: Carlisle said the defensive player of the game belt went to Wes Iwundu. “He did a great job holding his ground on (DeMar) DeRozan and he chased (Patty) Mills around and he made some plays off the ball which were really important,” Carlisle said. “Very happy for him.” . . . Here’s Carlisle on what he tried to do to help Tim Hardaway Jr. forget about his 0-for-12 shooting night on Monday against Toronto: “Show the team a bunch of bad defensive clips from that game because that was our undoing. We had a rough shooting night all around, but a lot of things were fueled by our inability to keep them in front of us.” . . . The Mavericks have played more games against the Spurs (185) than any other team in the league. Their record was 71-113 before Friday . . . The Mavericks play Houston Saturday night in Dallas and both teams had to travel late Friday night. The Rockets won in Detroit.

Twitter: @ESefko

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