DETROIT – With three flicks of his wrist early Wednesday evening, which resulted in 71 feet worth of made baskets, Kristaps Porzingis wasted no time showing Maverick fans what all the hype was about.
The steak certainly lived up to the sizzle.
The 7-3 Porzingis finally got back on the court 20 months and 3 days after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He partnered with Luka Doncic perhaps even better than expected. They scored the Mavericks’ first 12 points and fueled the Mavericks to a much better showing in their second preseason game than their first.
It didn’t result in a win, but that mattered little. Detroit’s 124-117 win was overshadowed by Porzingis’ return and his long-awaited pairing with Doncic.
And Porzingis learned – or maybe just got confirmation of what he already knew – one very important fact.
“It’s easy to play with him, super-easy,” Porzingis said of Doncic. “The looks he got us and how much attention he draws away from me and everybody else, it makes the game so much easier. I’m excited about us going forward and getting that connection to work at even a better level.”
It wasn’t bad in their first preseason game together.
Porzingis, whose first three shots were officially listed at 27, 18 and 26 feet, finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Perhaps most importantly, the Mavericks were plus-13 when Porzingis was on the floor, which was 19 minutes. Neither he nor Doncic played in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons pulled away.
Doncic finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Both he and Porzingis had trouble shooting the ball. They each finished 7-of-18 from the field and were a combined 4-of-15 from the 3-point line.
But the electricity when they were on the court was undeniable.
“I was out for a while,” Porzingis said. “So to be back out there on the floor, it was good. It felt pretty natural. I missed a lot of open looks. But I’m happy about me being out there and now it’s time to get some wins.”
Said Doncic: “He did great. He’s an amazing player.”
Doncic also was playing his first game after a long layoff. After playing basketball virtually 12 months a year in 2017 and 2018, he had nearly six months between games of any kind this summer. So rust was to be expected for both he and Porzingis.
Not that Doncic used that as an excuse. He said after the game he saw lots of things in his game that need fixing. For every right-hand-to-right-hand dribble between the legs and 30-foot 3-pointer, there were missed free throws (he was 5-of-10) and other miscues.
“It was a little weird,” he said. “I haven’t played in like, six, seven months. But I feel great. It’s preseason and our first game together and I thought it was great.
“But I can’t make a normal shot. I always make the shots I wasn’t supposed to make. I got to work on that, for sure. I missed three, four layups, I missed free throws, I missed open threes. It’s going to get better for sure. First game in six, seven months. We just got to keep working the next two weeks.”
That’s how much time they have to work out the kinks before the regular season opener.
Doncic dominated at times and heaved a 3-pointer from 30 feet with the shot clock expiring that put the Mavericks up 70-59.
Together, Doncic and Porzingis looked like they belonged together, which was all part of the plan in getting them to start their preseason together in the second game.
“I liked the way he played,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Porzingis. “He moved well, the energy is good. Obviously, he’s very excited to be back out there. It was a great start for him hitting three or four shots in a row. The two quick fouls slowed things down a little, but I don’t think he committed a foul after that. So it was good. We got him just about 20 minutes. So a lot of positives.”
But, a long way to go.
That’s OK, though. The Mavericks or any other NBA team never expect to be a finished product in the preseason.
No matter how you cut it, Wednesday coming-out party was a win in so many ways for the Mavericks and Porzingis – especially because he moved around the court so freely.
“Nothing at all,” he said when asked if he felt anything unusual in his knee. “I’ve been playing pick-up (games) for so long, I don’t even think about it anymore. I felt different in other ways, felt a little stronger. I was taking it easy, I wasn’t trying to do too much or go to fast. I was kind of pacing myself. And I felt good, comfortable. I just wanted to make more shots. Thanks to Luka, I got a lot of open looks.
After going a dismal 13-for-50 from 3-point range in the preseason opener, the Mavericks were much better from long range against the Pistons.
They hit a robust 37 percent (13-for-35), including 3-for-7 by Tim Hardaway Jr., who played the role of sixth man in this game.
Carlisle said that the first exhibition game in any preseason can be “a little raunchy looking.” But he wasn’t so much concerned with the 3-point misfires as some other trouble spots.
“We have a plan for how we want to play and the first preseason game can be a little raunchy looking,” he said. “I’d rather it wasn’t raunchy, but you’re going to go through some growing pains. We’re still a young team and we’re trying to keep things simple on the one hand but really concentrate on the details on the other hand. And the two do go hand in hand.
“There were a lot of things that we got to clean up that have nothing to do with the number of threes we were taking – things like spacing and running the floor and how we’re getting back and how we’re covering the 3-point line, mistakes we made on switches that can’t happen.”