In the 1993-94 season, Michael Jordan took a sabbatical to try baseball.
That didn’t work out so well, but it did accomplish one important thing: it give Scottie Pippen an opportunity that he made the most of.
He proved that, while being the best Robin in NBA history to a legendary Batman, he could also be The Man if needed. He averaged 22 points and 8.7 rebounds – both career bests. And that was back when the Chicago Bulls averaged 98 points.
It was a different game back then. But situations often stay the same.
Kristaps Porzingis is destined to be Luka Doncic’s Scottie Pippen. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It might lead to great things for both players and the Mavericks’ franchise.
However, with Doncic sidelined with a right ankle sprain, Porzingis is getting a chance – hopefully for only a short time – to be the offensive hub for the Mavericks. He has lots of help, so it’s not necessary for him to fill the shoes of Doncic and average 30 points per game.
If the first game without Luka proved anything, it’s that Porzingis is ready, willing and able to take on a bigger role. He had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the shocking 120-116 victory over Milwaukee, which ended the Bucks’ 18-game winning streak.
And Porzingis is approaching this stretch of games the right way.
“I don’t want to try to do my own thing out there,” he said. “It’s going to mess up the whole flow of the offense. We want to keep winning and we want our offense to be good. I’ll stick to doing that so we can keep doing what we’re doing.
“Just trying to get to the rim more and shoot threes. It’s still a little weird to shoot eight or nine threes a game. Five is OK for me. That’s what I was more used to.”
But Porzingis and the Mavericks know their success is predicated on the long ball, a scrambling defense, rebounding and hard-nosed persistence at both ends of the court.
When they do those things, they are a load for any opponent.
For as long as Doncic is out, Porzingis will have to carry a bigger load. So will Seth Curry, who has no problem with increased expectations and more pressure. He quickly responded to those added responsibilities in Milwaukee, matching Porzingis’ 26 points.
Curry also had five rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes.
“I knew there would be opportunities,” Curry said. “I knew it was going to be a fun game for me. It was just a matter of being aggressive.
“There’s a little more on my shoulders to bring that scoring punch. We’re missing 30 points from Luka.”
And so, Curry came off the bench and was a microwave, heating up in a heartbeat.
It’s going to have to be part of the Mavericks’ strategy whenever they are without Doncic and his wealth of talents.
It will start with Porzingis, and coach Rick Carlisle has proven over the years to be a master at getting players in positions to succeed through adversity.
“We played a style (in Milwaukee) that was very much ball-movement, player-movement, random, very few plays – and he’s very good at reading and playing out of those things,” Carlisle said of Porzingis. “And his teammates know how to find him.”
It’s the new normal for at least another game.
The win at Milwaukee was arguably the Mavericks best overall game of the season, and Carlisle hit on a couple of key points that made the difference.
“The real key to the game was the beginning,” he said. “We had to jump into it very aggressively, and the guys did. This is a great team and a great first-quarter team. And we knew that. We knew we had to at least match it and try to exceed the energy they come out with every night. We had a big quarter and we took it from there.”
Indeed, Monday’s game was just the ninth time in 28 games that the Bucks have trailed after the first quarter. They were 7-1 in those games before Monday.