From the time he anxiously stepped onto the court for the first time this season and fired up his first few shots Wednesday night, everything on offense appeared so seamless to Kristaps Porzingis.
In the Dallas Mavericks’ 104-93 triumph over the Charlotte Hornets, Porzingis debuted this season with 16 points, four rebounds and two blocks in just 21 minutes. But then, when he peeled back the onion on his first game Porzingis couldn’t help but smile and admit the obvious.
“What I think didn’t help me was knowing that I had the minutes restrictions,” Porzingis said. “I was trying to do as much as I could in those minutes that I had.
“Sometimes you don’t make the best decisions when you really want to be aggressive, but it’s OK. I wanted to be aggressive for the time I was going to be out there, and most importantly (it was the) first game and first win for me.”
Wednesday was Porzingis’ first action since Game 3 of the Mavs’ first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers when he had 34 points and 13 rebounds while shooting a sparking 11-of-18 from the field and 5-of-9 from 3-point range. That was way back on Aug. 21.
Since then, Porzingis underwent surgery on Oct. 9 to address a lateral meniscus injury of his right knee.
Against the Hornets, Porzingis was 6-of-16 from the field and more than held his own, especially considering it was his first game in nearly five months.
“It was great to have KP back out there,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought he played exceptionally well given the circumstances, and he’ll only get better from here, so that’s real encouraging.”
What was encouraging for Porzingis was the fact the offense came so easily for him against the Hornets. That was evident by the six points he scored in the six minutes he played in the first quarter, and by the way he opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers in rapid-like fashion.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work while I was out – just shooting, just being on the floor a lot more than when I was coming back from the ACL,” Porzingis said. “I could really tell I was real rusty when I was coming back (from the Feb. 13, 2018 ACL surgery), so I didn’t want to allow that to happen again this time around, so I put in a lot more time on the floor shooting.
“Today, I already felt way better than when I was coming back from the ACL. All I need now is just that time on the floor. And I have the confidence, because I have been putting in the work. Sooner or later I’ll have those minutes and I’ll just play out there freely, instinctively.”
The Mavs (6-4) certainly enjoyed having their second cornerstone player on the court for the first time this season alongside superstar point guard Luka Doncic. Porzingis’ appearance and his ability to dominant a game makes life a little less difficult on all his teammates.
“When both of those guys are out there it’s a game-changer for us because you’ve got two guys that can both play on the inside and really space the floor on the outside,” Carlisle said. “They can both put the ball on the floor and make plays.
“You get two franchise players, it’s important to have them on the floor together and available to play. You look at every team in this league if they’re without one of their cornerstone guys it’s going to be a lot tougher job. I think everybody feels a lot better now that KP is back in the mix.”
With Porzingis back, he gives Doncic another very tall and very talented target to get involved in the offense. It also puts a lot more pressure on opposing defenses.
“He’s amazing player,” Doncic said. “He’s got to get back into rhythm, and I think for the first game he played amazing. He’s going to keep improving and we’re going to need him a lot.”
The Mavs particularly needed Porzingis against the Hornets since big men Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber – along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson – all missed Wednesday’s game due to health and safety protocols.
“I enjoy winning, I enjoy competing,” Porzingis said. “It’s good to be out there, it’s good to be back with my guys and finally be a part of (the game). When I was out this time – these nine, 10 games – I was trying to stay as connected as I could to the team in timeouts and things like that, but you could only do so much.
“You actually want to be out there with everybody and playing and feeling like you’re doing your part. So today for the first time I got that feeling back again and I’m happy about the results.”
More importantly, Porzingis is appreciative of whatever minutes he receives as he continues getting his legs, conditioning and timing under him.
“I’ve been working a lot and coming back from the injury, so it’s always a good feeling once you actually get there and you get those minutes on the court,” he said. “So I’m happy about that, and I’m happy about the win.
“I’m looking forward to the next one and getting into a rhythm where everything just comes easy and we find that chemistry out there, and then we’ll take off.”