From the sound of it, training camp started Tuesday for Kristaps Porzingis.
The big man who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October went through his first full practice with the Mavericks since the injury and while there’s no timetable for his return to game action, his ability to work out with the team was a great sign.
“I know doubt is removed by action,” Porzingis said. “That’s why I’m putting in the work to make sure that when I do step on the court I’m confident and ready to go. The feel for the game will come with that. I’m just putting in work and trying to make the time go faster.”
The 7-3 center/forward suffered a meniscus injury in Game 1 of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in August. It was not as serious as the torn ACL he had in the left knee midway through the 2017-18 season. But the recovery time has been significant.
“I felt good out there moving around, feeling contact,” Porzingis said. “It was a good practice. And after practice I played some one-on-ones. I just want to get back in the rhythm of playing. That’s what I’m looking for right now. I’m happy to be back with the team full time, practicing. The next step is getting right to be able to step on the court and play a game.”
That won’t happen Wednesday when the Mavericks have their home opener (without fans) against the Charlotte Hornets.
But the Mavericks do see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. After a suitable amount of time to chisel off the rust and regain his stamina, Porzingis will be back.
“He was a full go today at practice,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “That was great to see. He did reps both with the second unit and a lot with the first unit as well. I love the way he’s worked through this period of two months coming off the scope.
“I don’t know a timetable. He’s not going to play in December. I do think he’ll play in January, I just don’t know exactly when. Sometime in the next couple of weeks isn’t farfetched, but it isn’t certain either. We just got to go day to day with it and hope that things can keep moving in a positive direction.”
Porzingis had regained star-level status last season before the coronavirus shut down the league March 11. He averaged 25.2 points and 10.9 rebounds in the last 15 games before the stoppage. More importantly, he had developed a wonderful chemistry with Luka Dončić.
In six games in the NBA bubble during the restart, he was even better, averaging 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. He played three games in the playoffs, despite suffering the injury in Game 1. He had 34 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3 against the Clippers before the knee locked up and forced him out the rest of the way.
Though the rehab has gone well and Porzingis was cleared for practices, there still is work to be done, he said.
“I still feel like I need to put in more work with the right leg,” he said. “If I wasn’t already there, they wouldn’t let me go five-on-five with contact. But I still feel, for myself, I just need a little time to get back in rhythm and feel good on the court. I don’t want to have that adaptation time when I’m already playing. Once I’m playing, I want to play at a high level right away.
“But I’m putting in a lot of work to make sure that whenever I do step back on the court I’m smooth and I’m not out of rhythm. That’s the main thing for me now. Just keep strengthening the leg, make sure the balance is there and everything’s fine. Then once I’m ready to go, I’ll step on the court and I won’t have any doubts or second thoughts. I know I’ll be ready to go.”
In the first three games, the absence of Porzingis has meant extended workloads for Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein and Boban Marjanović. All have had moments when they have taken advantage of the additional playing time.
“Everyone has to be ready,” Carlisle said. “The schedule being as difficult as it is, you got to be able to pivot at a moment’s notice. We may have guys playing different positions. Kleber played some three (small forward) today at practice. All this kind of stuff makes everybody better.”
That said, the Mavericks know that, to be their best, they need Porzingis to be healthy.
“Oh man, KP is a vital part of this team, not only as a second or third scoring option for us, (but) bringing length on defense,” said Cauley-Stein. “We know what KP does so we’re excited to get him back on the court with us and see how Rick shapes the lineup.
“When he comes back, we’re going to be real big at the 3-4-5 positions and long and athletic and be able to play defense the way we’re trying to play defense. So it’s going to be big-time for us.”