When the Mavericks eyeball the Western Conference standings going into the NBA’s restart, they see the same thing everybody else does.
They are headed to the playoffs, which is great. But also they are on a collision course with the Los Angeles Clippers, at the moment. That could change, given that the eight-game finish to the regular season will provide an opportunity to move up in the standings.
But as far as Kristaps Porzingis is concerned, the opponent when he takes his first dip into the playoffs matters less than what the Mavericks do with the opportunity.
“Well, of course we want to win the most games we can,” Porzingis said Friday on a conference call. “But we’re not really looking to avoid anybody.”
When you are 40-27 with statement road wins against the Lakers, Bucks and Nuggets, among others, you shouldn’t have to be scared of any matchup. The West is competitive, plain in simple.
“Obviously, those are going to be tough matchups,” Porzingis said of teams like the Lakers and Clippers. “But we want to do the best we can to see where we end up and go from there.
“I think that we’re a dangerous team and I think we can surprise people. That’s got to be our mindset and what we’re working toward going into the postseason.”
Porzingis and the rest of the Mavericks are going through a strange time at the moment. Teams are back at their training facilities, but are limited to individual workouts with coaches. They can work together on their own, but the first full team practices won’t be until they get to Orlando.
In the Mavericks’ case, that will be either July 10 or 11 after they arrive on July 8 and quarantine for a couple days.
Then, it will be eight games in 14 days for the Mavericks starting on July 31, followed by the first trip to the playoffs for Porzingis and Luka Doncic.
Of course, there will be no fans and, ostensibly, no home-court advantage with all games played in the Orlando bubble.
“It’s hard for me to predict how it’s going to be,” Porzingis said. “It’s going to be my first experience. No matter what the circumstances are, I’m going to try to get the most out of it and get the most experience and play the highest level basketball I’ve ever played. So I’m looking forward to it.
“But my goal is to have a postseason every year from here on. This is going to be the first one and I look forward to the next ones when we have fans back.”
There is no reason to expect anything but star-level showings from Porzingis and Doncic going into the finish of the season and the playoffs.
Porzingis was rolling when the season stopped on March 11 because of the coronavirus.
It halted, temporarily at least, a blossoming chemistry between the Mavericks’ two young stars, who were fast becoming one of the most unstoppable pick-and-roll duos in the league.
In February and March, Porzingis played 14 games. He averaged 24.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 blocks. He shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range and played 33.5 minutes per game.
He also sat out three games that were the second night of back-to-back situations.
The Mavericks have only one such instance on their schedule for the restart. And that comes on Games 6 and 7 of the “regular” season. They will have a 4 p.m. game on Aug. 11 after playing at 3 p.m. on the previous day.
As coach Rick Carlisle said, an NBA season – even for eight games and playoffs – without travel is something everybody should be able to appreciate. And it will help Porzingis, too.
As for teaming with Doncic, who was in the MVP conversation before the hiatus, Porzingis doesn’t see why anything should change.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that tough,” Porzingis said. “I’ve been working out with Luka since we’ve been back. For us, once we got to know a little more about each other on the court, it was only a matter of time for us to really get that chemistry going. I don’t think we’re going to take a step back. We’re looking forward.”
After all, it’s not like Porzingis and Doncic forgot how to play basketball in four months away from competitive action.
One thing about the finish to this season, which could go into October if the Mavericks are fortunate enough to make it to the NBA finals, is that it’s going to be unlike any in the league’s history. No fans will make for some interesting subplots in Orlando.
“It’s going to be weird, obviously,” Porzingis said. “A big part of the game and the whole atmosphere is the fans. They bring the energy and give us the energy. And that’s why home-court is so important.
“But this time it’s going to be different. We’re all going to have to get used to it and go with the flow. I think the feel is going to be more like a high-intensity, high-level pickup game than an actual NBA game.”
But the stakes won’t be any lower, even without fans.
“Now it’s going to be more on us to find that inner energy, that inner strength to play the whole game, no matter what the score is,” Porzingis said. “Sometimes it can work for you and sometimes it can work against you. But it’s going to be the same for everybody.”