Like any NBA player worth his salt who grew up with a hunger for playing basketball, Dwight Powell would love to play more minutes and help the Dallas Mavericks emerge victorious in their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But it wasn’t until Game 5 on Wednesday night in LA that Powell took a huge bite out of the playoff apple. Hungry for playing time, the seven-year veteran center/forward came off the bench to score eight points, grab seven rebounds, distribute two assists and record a steal in 22 minutes as the Mavs took a 3-2 lead over the Clippers in this best-of-seven series with a stunning 105-100 victory.

The production by Powell was remarkable considering that in the first four games of this series combined, he only had seven points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. So how does a player remain focused on the task at hand when he doesn’t know if he’s even going to play?

Powell has the formula for that.

“Staying locked in is part of development as a player, especially in this league,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready for your opportunity.

“You don’t know when they’re going to come, and you don’t necessarily know how long they’ll be there. So you’ve got to make sure you seize that moment every chance you get, regardless of what time of year it is.”

Powell definitely seized the moment on Wednesday. When the 6-10, 240-pounder entered the game with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter, the Mavs were reeling and trailing the Clippers, 70-67 after blowing an early 10-point lead.

However, with Powell on the court and energizing his teammates, the Mavs outscored the Clippers 22-5 the remainder of the third quarter and take an 89-75 lead into the fourth period.

“Dwight’s played meaningful minutes in this series, but not a lot of them, but he’s always held his own,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But he’s one of our best competitors, so I felt that we needed to get him more involved in this series (on Wednesday), and he delivered.”

Powell, who finished the game with a plus/minus of +10, was able to deliver because he developed a knack for being ready whenever his number is called a long time ago.

“It’s a habit that I built fortunately early in my career, and now nothing changes,” he said. “(I like) staying locked in at practice, locked in at film, staying with the guys and competing in every way we can from the bench. So yeah, it’s a habit fortunately that I have built in already.”

During the game-changing third quarter of Game 5, Powell collected four points and three rebounds. He grabbed an offensive rebound that led to a 3-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. – off an assist from Powell. He also nabbed a pair of defensive rebounds which directly led to a couple of baskets from Luka Doncic.

In other words, while the Mavs were in the middle of gaining some much-needed breathing room in Game 5, Powell was right smack in the middle of helping them become on the cusp of closing out this series with a Friday 8 p.m. contest at American Airlines Center.

That third quarter, when the Mavs outscored the Clippers, 33-21, proved to be the difference in the game.

“Coming out of the half we wanted to make sure to get off to a good start to get some momentum,” Powell said. “Obviously, defensively focus on their key guys, which is crucial for us, and take advantage of the opportunity we had offensively.”

In 58 games during the regular season this year, Powell averaged 5.9 points and four rebounds in 16.7 minutes. And that was coming off a year where he had season-ending surgery on Jan. 28, 2020 to repair a torn right Achilles tendon.

But as this season progressed, Powell has slowly returned to his high-flying pre-surgery energetic days.

“He’s always going to bring it,” Carlisle said. “Everything that everybody brought (in Game 5) was needed, but Powell was terrific.”

So too, was Doncic, who was spectacular while finishing with 42 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists after entering Game 5 as he was still recovering from a cervical strain.

“Luka rises to the occasion regardless, whether he’s injured or not, regardless of the situation,” Powell said. “When it comes time to compete he’s going to show up full force and that’s what he did (Wednesday). So it’s definitely no surprise that he came to play (in Game 5) at all.”

Now comes the Mavs’ chance – again – to surprise the basketball world – again – and become the first team to win a home game in this series. Why that has yet to happen in this series is a mystery to everyone.

“I don’t necessarily have a secret explanation to that,” Powell said. “But we need to lock in with the things that we did (Wednesday) that were effective, look for ways that they may adjust to those things that kind of counteract that, and also look at things that were not as effective and try to remedy those things going into this next game.

“Fortunately, we’re going to be home for this next game and we need to do everything in our power to compete at the same level as we did (Wednesday). . .and hopefully come out with a victory.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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