The Dallas Mavericks are unsure if point guard Luka Doncic will be healthy enough to play in Game 4 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Doncic suffered a sprained left ankle on Friday night in Game 3 of this best-of-seven first-round series when he collided with Kawhi Leonard with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter. Coach Rick Carlisle said Doncic could be a game-time decision for Game 4 Sunday at 2:30 p.m. inside the bubble, and he was listed as questionable Saturday night.
“He is not doing anything on the floor today,” Carlisle said. “It’s treatment, and we’re trying to get him an MRI. There’s an issue with the MRI machine here and they’re trying to get that resolved so that we can get the MRI done.
“We’ve got to measure a lot of things relative to how he’s feeling, what the diagnostic test looks like and what our trainers feel, so we’ll see. I wish I knew right now, but I don’t. Tonight’s a big night in terms of how he feels in the morning.”
Carlisle said if there’s any way Doncic can play, he expects that he will.
“I believe that he has played hurt a lot in his young career,” Carlisle said. “I sense that he did it pretty frequently in Europe. He plays hurts a lot and he’s constantly hitting the floor, getting whacked, getting hit across the head, getting poked in the eye.
“We do not want him to play injured, though. That’s a different situation. That (brings) greater risk into it, but we’ll see where things are tomorrow.”
Carlisle pointed out the difference in playing hurt and playing injured, and added that the input from Mavs’ director of player health and performance, Casey Smith, will play a significant role in whether or not Doncic plays in Game 4.
“Some of it is going to be based upon the MRI results, some of it certainly is based on how he feels and his desire to play or not play, and some of it is going to come down to what Casey Smith believes is the right thing for Luka and for the team,” Carlisle said. “So that’s how we’ll gauge it.
“We’re playing for our lives here, we’re playing to tie the series (at 2-2). It’s a tough series against a very physical team and we need as many of our weapons as we can have available.”
Obviously, similar to the Mavs’ coaches, the players also have spent considerable time contemplating how they’ll approach Game 4 if Doncic can’t play in it.
“Everyone’s thinking about that,” guard Trey Burke said. “We’re hoping that he can go for us. That’s what we’re all leaning toward.
“Sometimes injuries happen. If he can’t go, guys got to be ready to play and step up and we’ve got to have the same mentality going out there, and that’s to win.”
The Mavs were down, 85-71 in Game 3 when Doncic hopped off the court while trying not to put any pressure on his left ankle.
Doncic got his ankle re-taped and started the fourth quarter. But when the pain became unbearable, he left for good with the Mavs down by 15 points and 9:02 on the clock.
“It’s unique, because you know how dynamic he is with the ball in his hands,” Burke said of Doncic. “So when he’s not on the court guys have bigger roles – putting the ball in the basket offensively. I think yesterday we did a pretty good job. We didn’t expect for him to go out of the game, but when it happened I think we still did a really good job of staying together offensively.
“When we can look at film and see guys getting open shots and they’re just not falling, that gives you confidence going into the next game. We’re professionals and we know we can make those shots. Guys just got to stay confident and ready to play.”
The Mavs are 7-7 this season in games when Doncic didn’t play. That includes traveling to Milwaukee and beating the Bucks, 120-116, on Dec. 16 to end their 18-game winning streak when Doncic was out with a sprained right ankle.
And when Doncic exited Game 2 early in the fourth quarter this past Wednesday with five fouls and the Mavs up by 10, at one point they increased their lead to 18 points.
“We have a lot of offensive power, so we just got to keep playing and stay confident,” forward Maxi Kleber said. “Obviously we want (Doncic) to play. He’s our best player. He creates most of our offense and he’s very important to us, so we want him to play.
“But we’ve got to make sure he’s healthy. He’s going to be a future player hopefully of this franchise for a long time, so you want to make sure that you don’t take any unnecessary risks.”
So what was the mood of the Mavs the day after they saw their franchise player suffer an ankle injury that could have catastrophic consequences?
“Just locking in and trying to move on to the next game and seeing the mistakes we made and trying to learn from them so we can fix them tomorrow,” Burke said. “We don’t have much time to really sulk on the last game — win or lose.
“In the playoffs you know how it is. It’s a quick turnaround. You try to take the positives from yesterday and turn the negatives into positives for tomorrow.”
If Doncic can’t play in Game 4, the point guard chores will likely be handled by Delon Wright and Burke. Also, shooting guard Seth Curry, who scored a career playoff-high 22 points during Friday’s 130-122 loss to the Clippers, has some playmaking skills.
“At this point we’ve got to go with whatever we believe is going to work at a particular moment and at a particular stretch of time,” Carlisle said. “Seth did play some point guard last night and I thought he played it very well. Three years ago when he was with us we started him at point for a pretty significant amount of time to see the viability of him playing that position, and he did a good job.
“His natural position is (shooting guard), but he’s certainly able and capable of playing (point guard). When you get to this point, a lot of things become position-less when you want to have your best players on the floor as much as possible.”