After the Mavericks came, saw and conquered in Mexico City, they got back to Dallas Thursday afternoon ready to begin a challenging stretch of the season.
The top five teams in the Eastern Conference standings all are waiting to take their swings at the Mavericks in the next five games.
Detroit, another East team that the Mavericks beat 122-111 in Mexico, was physical. The next five teams will be even more brutish.
But if the performance against the Pistons is any indication, this might just be right in Kristaps Porzingis’ wheelhouse.
He spent the first three seasons of his career in New York getting a steady diet of Eastern Conference physicality. Despite his slender build, he’s used to battling against the likes of Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Joel Embiid and the rest of the Eastern Conference big men who like to throw their weight around.
Against Drummond, Porzingis and all of the Mavericks had trouble in the first half. But after halftime, Drummond had only three points and six rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time. Porzingis had a big hand in that improved defense.
Porzingis finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. It was his first 20-point game since Nov. 24 at Houston when he had 23 points.
And so far this season, he’s averaged 17.8 points against the East compared to 15.8 against the West. He’s also shot nearly 35 percent from 3-point range against East foes vs. 31 percent against the West.
“The way KP has been playing after being out almost two years is amazing,” Luka Doncic said. “And he’s only going to get better.”
That’s what the Mavericks are hoping and that’s what seems logical. After his knee surgery in February, 2018, Porzingis sat out 20 months. He missed all of last season. Anybody who expected him to return averaging 23 points like he was before the injury miscalculated on two things:
The amount of rust that must be knocked off after sitting out so long, and the simple fact that Doncic is far, far better than anybody realistically expected.
If Porzingis is destined to be Doncic’s equivalent to what Scottie Pippen was to Michael Jordan, then the two are off to an impressive start.
“He and KP are getting more and more synergy out there,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “which is great to see. Every game, they get closer.”
And the bottom line suggests that both players are doing what they need to do. If you had the Mavericks at 17-7 through 24 games, you are one of the few. And maybe in a group by yourself.
Normally, five games against East teams would signify a chance to pad that record. But that’s not the case in this stretch with Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto following Miami.
“The East has been getting better every year the last several years,” Carlisle said. “I believe there’s still a physical element to Eastern Conference teams that’s a little more pronounced. That’s where our disposition has to be physical as well.
“We don’t have the most big and bruising and strapping team in the NBA but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an element of persistence and physical toughness and mental toughness.”
That will require Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanovic and others to pitch in with Porzingis.
But if Porzingis still feels at home playing against the East teams, that will be a very good thing for the Mavericks.
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