The Dallas Mavericks are fresh off of a huge comeback victory in Game 4, capped off by an astounding, 28-foot, stepback three-pointer at the buzzer from Luka Dončić. More impressive still, Kristaps Porziņģis, the team’s second leading scorer, was a late scratch due to “knee soreness”.
That f****** knee soreness. The same discomfort that caused Porziņģis to miss 8 games between December 2019 and January 2020. It started the same way; he was removed from the lineup at the last minute before a New Year’s Eve game in Oklahoma City. For the next few weeks, the Mavs brass remained mum about his status, taking it day to day and not changing their cryptic designation on the official injury report, “knee soreness”.
Seven games later, the night finally came: KP was set to return on the road against the Sacramento Kings. He went through warmups and then– was again a late scratch. The Mavs fanbase, finally starting to breathe a sigh of relief, were on edge once again.
- Did Kristaps have chronic knee issues after his ACL injury?
- Did he actually tear something in his knee and the Mavs weren’t telling us?
- Were they just being extra cautious given the fact he signed a 5-year $158 million deal in the previous offseason?
Personally, I believed the third option, and at the time, it made sense! No point in jeopardizing the long term future of your 25 year-old star in his first year with the team. Kristaps returned to action in the next game and stayed relatively healthy, eventually returning to his All-Star form in February and March (before the season was suspended).
Fast-forward to August 2020: “The Bubble”, Orlando, Florida.
Despite the Mavs’ rocky start, KP was balling. In six seeding games he averaged 30.5 PPG, and 10.1 RPG with 47.6 / 38.1 / 89.1 shooting splits. He looked better than he ever had, inspiring confidence he truly could be the co-star the Mavs needed.
He was off to a hot start in Game 1 of this series until his bogus ejection in the third quarter. In Game 2, Porziņģis put forth a solid effort of 23 points and 7 rebounds to help the Mavericks beat the Clippers by 13 to even the series. Despite the loss in Game 3, KP exploded for 34 points and 13 rebounds on 11-18 shooting. Heading into Game 4, the hype was real.
The Clippers were long regarded as the worst possible matchup for the Mavs due to their physical style of play, however, the Mavs had shown in their first three games that they intended to play a relentless series in which each game went down to the wire. With Porziņģis’ build and role, he was bound to feel wear and tear after playing big minutes for long stretches (he played 38 minutes in Game 3). If Kristaps was going to continue his hot streak, the Mavs could extend the series to 6 or 7 games in their quest to upset the 2nd-seed Clippers.
Unfortunately, that damned knee soreness popped up again before Game 4. Porziņģis underwent an MRI, and while Mavs coach Rick Carlisle seemed to indicate that it was unrelated to the December/January knee soreness, he once again remained mum about the details. While Carlisle stated it would likely be a gametime decision whether KP played, he was ruled out the morning of Game 5.
The Mavs need to get to the bottom of this and demonstrate a bit more transparency than they otherwise have. These sorts of injuries can be fickle, and fans should understand the need to not rush a 7’ 3” phenom back to the court in his first season since a major knee injury. There is no doubt Kristaps wants to be competing with his teammates on the highest level, but the health of his knees is undoubtedly risking the rhythm he’s built up in the bubble.
Now, with KP missing at least two pivotal playoff games in the midst of a tough series, fans are left grasping for straws based on ambiguous reports on his health. This sort of vagueness is frustrating, given a fundamental truth: soreness is a symptom of something, not an injury in itself.
If Porziņģis has larger issues with his knee, they need to be addressed A.S.A.P. in order to protect his career longevity. If this truly is just soreness, the Mavs need a more comprehensive plan to help him manage it that extends beyond load management on back-to-backs.
- Given that it’s year one, perhaps they are (once again) playing it safe?
- Perhaps there is some behind the scenes stuff going on?
Since the day they traded for him, the Mavericks organization has involved those closest to KP in medical decisions: including the trainer who helped Kristaps rehab from his ACL injury as well as Porziņģis’ brother, Janis (who Carlisle made a point of welcoming during KP’s introductory press conference). Ultimately, this may be a decision made by Kristaps and his well-wishers to protect his long term health.
Either way, this needs to be resolved. For fans, the recurring question, “Is Kristaps playing tonight?” is starting to induce anxiety. Furthermore, every time Dončić and Porziņģis develop some on-court chemistry this season, injury seems to blunt their momentum.
Luka’s ethereal performances & Kristaps’ stellar contributions are accelerating the Dallas Mavericks’ path to title contention. As much as playing it safe can save you trouble in getting to the destination, it can also slow the locomotive. Unfortunately, only time will tell how this one will play out.
Dallas plays the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 tonight at 8:00 PM CT.