Mavs buys time with Doncic as first-round series moves to Utah – Natural Self Esteem

The Dallas Mavericks bought some time to include Luka Doncic in their first-round series against Utah by winning Game 2 at home without their star.

When Doncic returns from a calf injury this week, it will be in one of the toughest arenas in the NBA for opposing teams. The 1-1 draw streak continues Thursday night in Salt Lake City, where the Mavericks have lost 11 straight games.

“We need Luca back. We want him back as soon as possible,” said Maxi Kleber, who played a big role on Monday night’s night of the series in Dallas’ 110-104 win with a career-high eight 3-pointers and a best 25 points in the playoffs played. “But obviously we want him to come back healthy so he stays healthy and helps us because we know he’s our best player.”

That’s the question the Mavericks don’t answer, other than the generic “He’s getting better.”


When Game 3 ends, it will be 11 days since Doncic strained his left calf as he was less than three minutes from finally going to the bench in what turned out to be a meaningless regular-season finale against San Antonio.

That’s about the recovery time for the mildest calf strain, known as grade one. Additionally, the optimistic outlook is a month — about the time Kevin Durant was sidelined when he tore his Achilles tendon in his first game with Golden State in 2019.

Durant’s injury came in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and he missed the entire 2019-20 season, though that regular season resumed in the summer and the playoffs were extended into the fall after a nearly five-month COVID-19 shutdown .

“I know he’s dying to get out of there soon. But he’s got to take his time,” said Jalen Brunson, who took the lead at point guard with the three-time All-Star miss and posted a career-high 41 points in Game 2. “I know that he gives everything he has to not let his team down. But he must make a decision that is best for him. I don’t necessarily know where he is. All I know is that he’s a competitor, he wants to be out there.”


Coach Jason Kidd has been wary of Doncic from the start, though the point guard for the only Dallas team to win a championship (2011) says he’s not trying. When asked what the grade of Doncic’s injury was two days after the incident, Kidd said, “Medically, I don’t know what a grade means.”

The Mavericks have a moment in history similar to this one. Kidd was in between stints with the franchise that drafted him when Dirk Nowitzki sprained his knee early in Game 3 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals against San Antonio.

Then-coach Don Nelson chose not to play 24-year-old Nowitzki because he didn’t want to risk damaging what everyone knew would be the face of the franchise for years to come. Despite being medically cleared for a Game 6, the Mavs lost and were eliminated; Nowitzki said later in his career that Nelson did the right thing.

Doncic is 23, and while a worst-case scenario with a muscle isn’t quite as bad as one with a knee, the fact that Doncic just signed a $207 million five-year extension remains a rookie Supermax record. It starts next season.


“The time comes as an organization when we have to make that decision one way or the other,” Kidd said. “And that’s one of the questions when you have almost exactly the same thing: do you play him or not? And we’ve been through this before. And we will be sitting in this seat again in a moment.”

The Jazz, who said they were happy with the Dallas split despite missing the opportunity to beat the Mavericks twice without Doncic, are now with everyone else waiting to see when or if the young phenom will go to court against them this series.

“I think people think about it, and I think it’s normal,” said Utah coach Quin Snyder. “He’s such a dynamic player, you have to. That being said, I think planning for Dallas is more than just planning for Luka. They’re obviously an excellent team even when he’s not out there.”

Better in Game 2 than Game 1, and going anywhere now, Dallas just hasn’t been very good in recent years, with or without superstars. The Mavericks are 24-73 all-time in Utah.


“You buy yourself time for Luka to come back. It’s not rocket science,” said guard Spencer Dinwiddie, a trade-deadline acquisition who will also be thrown into a leadership role if Doncic is out. “We want him back as soon as possible and as healthy as possible. But we are also focused on winning the series anyway.”


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