During his idle time – and he’s had plenty of that since his left knee failed him against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 6, 2018 — Kristaps Porzingis thought a lot about what his first real NBA game would be like once he returned to play the game he loves so much.
The Dallas Mavericks’ center-forward, in his heart of hearts, knows it won’t be business as usual, or just another day at the office. After tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament against the Bucks while he was playing for the New York Knicks, Porzingis has since undergone surgery, went through rehab, gotten traded from the Knicks to the Mavs during his recovery, and signed a five-year free agent contract this summer.
In a nutshell, Porzingis knows he has endured so much agony – and his fair share of grace — over the past 20-plus months to make his head spin off his shoulders. But when the Mavs open the regular season at home on Oct. 23 against the Washington Wizards, Porzingis said he’s emotionally more than prepared to handle the task at hand.
Especially since – the preseason games notwithstanding – that will be his first game of substance since he tumbled to the floor writhing in pain during that contest at New York’s Madison Square Garden against the Bucks.
“I’ve thought about it already at the end of last season because I wanted to come back so bad and I wanted to play (last season),” Porzingis said. “But now we’re kind of like taking smaller steps and doing the whole preseason thing and already getting out there with not as many fans and not as crazy an atmosphere.”
Those “smaller steps” include the Mavs not exposing Porzingis to a back-to-back game situation just yet. The 24-year old sat out the Oct. 8 preseason opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder, then played 19 minutes the next night in Detroit and finished with 18 points and seven rebounds against the Pistons.
Two days later, Porzingis collected 11 points and five boards during a 24-minute stint against the Bucks. And Monday night he produced 17 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes during the Mavs’ dress rehearsal-type 107-70 blowout victory over the Thunder.
The stair-stepping of the minutes that he’s played isn’t lost on Porzingis.
“It was good for me,” he said. “It makes it a little bit smoother.”
Then, Porzingis’ immediate thoughts turned to what he’s painstakingly waited for – the game against the Wizards. For Porzingis it’s as if the contest against Washington is the gift that he hopes will keep on giving.
“I don’t think it’ll be a big deal for me,” he said. “I think I’ll go out with my mind in the right place and just play my game.
“Play my game and not over-think anything, and that’s it. And just have fun out there.”
In other words, thoughts of his left knee betraying him again doesn’t even enter Porzingis’ mind. He has made peace with that both mentally and physically.
“I feel great,” Porzingis said. “The knee, I don’t even think about it. It’s not an issue at all. My legs feel great.”
Monday was Porzingis’ third game in six days. And he was happy with the outcome – from a physical standpoint.
“We didn’t have a shootaround (Monday) morning, so my legs felt great,” Porzingis said. “I was hoping I would get a wide open dunk (in the game) so I could get up a little bit, but everything was a little bit of contact, so I didn’t really get up that high.
“But my legs felt good (Monday) and my knee is great. I’m happy where I am physically.”
However, there is one lingering item Porzingis wants to check off his to-do list, perhaps as soon as Thursday’s preseason finale in Vancouver, Canada, against the Los Angeles Clippers.
‘I still want to get my lungs a little bit — open them up a little more,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time when everything will come together and we’ll be ready to go.”
That includes, Porzingis indicated, his shooting percentage coming together. In the three preseason games he’s played, Porzingis is just 18-of-52 from the field for 34.6 percent, and only 7-of-25 from 3-point range for 28 percent.
Those are not exactly numbers Porzingis wants to hang his hat on. A career 43.7 percent shooter from the field and 36 percent shooter from 3-point territory, he knows his deft shooting stroke will return in due time.
“My teammates are trusting me and passing me the ball,” Porzingis said. “Whenever I’m open, I’m shooting the ball, and the shots will start to fall. I have no doubts. I’m impatient with those kinds of things.
“I want to make every shot I take and I believe I can make every shot I take. Now, put in the work and in practice make shots, focus, high quality everything and sooner or later I’ll start making those wide open looks and then we will be playing even better.”