January was not exactly the best of times for Dallas Mavericks forward/center Maxi Kleber. That’s because of an 18-day span when the five-year veteran was sidelined under the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

It was indeed, the worst of times for Kleber, who was eager to help his teammates, but didn’t have the strength to do it.

“I think being sick was the hardest part about it,” Kleber told Mavs.com following Monday’s practice. “It was just like not being able to move for the first couple of days.

“It was just like watching the games, not being able to practice and not being able to do anything, because there’s this point where you feel better, but you’re still not cleared (to practice or play) and you can’t really do anything. It’s really annoying to waste your time like that. You want to just go out and do something, but you know at the same time you’ve got to protect everybody and make sure they’re healthy.”

The COVID-19 episode wound up costing Kleber 11 games.

“I was not the only one (with COVID-19), so you could exchange with other teammates who had it at the same time, too,” he said. “But definitely, when you see the guys playing, you want to be out there with them, you want to help, you want to be on the road with them. . .and you didn’t have the chance.

“I guess it was a struggle for everybody who had COVID, and coming back it was not really a lot of time. And then my body, I had some issues.”

After returning from COVID-19 last season, Kleber missed one game less than a month later because of a left ankle sprain, one game due to a left leg contusion, two games because of a right lower leg soreness, one game due to a low back contusion, and the final seven games of the regular season because of right Achilles soreness. And he still wasn’t fully healthy when the Mavs played their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers from May 22-June 6, yet he battled mightily through the injuries.

But now, as the Mavs prepare to open the regular season Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Atlanta, Kleber has declared himself a picture of good health.

“I could still go up and down – it was painful,” Kleber said, explaining last season’s many trials and tribulations. “But the jumping and sprinting part was tough to do, so it kind of slowed me down a little bit.

“I’m fully healthy now and I’m happy I can move and run again the way I want to. And I think that’s the number one thing for everybody on the team – just staying healthy – because we have a really great roster of great guys. And we all can play basketball. We just got to stay healthy and keep working.”

Coach Jason Kidd likes the versatility that Kleber brings to the court, knowing that he can effectively play all three front court positions, and can pose a significant threat on both sides of the floor.

“I think we saw some of that in the preseason, and that’s what we expect,” Kidd said. “Playing both sides of the ball, having the ability to come off the bench, being able to start. We can use him in a lot of different ways.

“He can play a lot of different positions, so look for him to continue to shoot the ball like he did in Milwaukee. Even the shots he got in Charlotte were all great shots. What I love about that is everybody kept telling him to shoot.”

Kleber played 20 minutes off the bench during last Wednesday’s 127-59 preseason win at Charlotte, and finished with two points, two steals, two blocked shots and was 0-of-5 from the field. And in a starting spot during Friday’s 114-103 victory in Milwaukee, he played 14 minutes, scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and was 3-of-5 from the field.

Overall, the Mavs were 4-0 in preseason – the first time they’ve ever posted a perfect preseason record. The record was a source of pride for the Mavs.

“Obviously, preseason games don’t count at all, but it’s just nice to get together and see where we stand,” Kleber said. “But I think we have shown that we can pick up on defense and get better there.

“I think we’ve shown that we really have the ability of getting stops, and offensively we have so much talent we don’t have to worry about that.”

According to Kleber, the other main focus is that the Mavs’ “chemistry is just amazing,” and should be a positive factor this season. Especially since the Mavs have one of the most lethal players on the planet in point guard Luka Doncic.

“We have a lot of shooting power,” Kleber said. “I think that makes it easy for Luka coming off the screens, because we know (defenses are) going to show a lot of attention to him. So everybody’s ready to shoot and everybody can shoot and we’ve all got the green light to let the ball fly. So it makes it a little bit easier for him, too.

“And on the defensive end we have a lot of young guys — and they’re hungry. They want to get stops. It’s like: I’m going to be a big difference and we want to be, defensively, even better.”

And in Kidd’s offensive scheme, Kleber acknowledged there’s “a lot of freedom” for him and his teammates to just do what they do best – and that’s play basketball.

“We just play free basketball, because we know everybody has talent and can make the right decisions and is very confident, and that’s how we play and practice,” he said. “One of the big things that we talked about is being accountable and the team chemistry, and we work on that every day off the court (and) on the court.

“We all get along. We have team dinners. We’re really excited to finally start (the regular season), because we know what we can do, we know we’ve got a good team, so we just want to go ahead and play.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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