Dallas, Texas — It always seemed like destiny.
The Dallas Mavericks (52-30) meeting the Utah Jazz (49-33) was a series previewed a host of times (three) in the last two months of the season. Now, in that matchup, there is a new wrinkle. Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic may not be available for Game 1, after sustaining a calf injury against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. The results of an MRI will be known later on Monday.
The game is scheduled to tip off on Saturday, April 16, at noon Central Standard Time. However, without the engine that makes the offense hum, Dallas’ playoff hopes would dwindle before everyone’s eyes. And having to play the first playoff game was Dallas’ worst-case scenario. Yet, Jalen Brunson remains optimistic for Doncic’s return before Game 1 — for better or for worse.
“For some reason, I feel like he’ll be ready to go, knowing the competitor he is,” Brunson said on Sunday.
Brunson’s optimism, though admirable, could be ill-found. There is a varying level of severity regarding calf strains. Rudy Gobert missed three weeks when he suffered his calf strain during the regular season. And in medical circles, the median length away from basketball with a calf strain is 16 days — a number that could mean potentially missing the entire series.
For Dallas and for Doncic, that would be the most devasting outcome.
Doncic drug the Mavericks here
The Mavericks have won the most games in a single season since winning the NBA title in 2011. And since Dec. 31, the team has won nearly 75 percent of its games, after starting the year 16-18 through 34 games. For the turnaround, Dallas has Doncic to thank.
In 21 games since the NBA All-Star break, he has arguably played the best basketball of his career. Doncic is averaging 30 points per game, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. He is shooting 47 percent from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point range. Everything starts and stops with Doncic in Dallas’ offense.
Without him, the Mavericks may as well be a play-in team. And despite Utah’s struggles, if Doncic isn’t able to play, there is no way Dallas feasibly breaks its dreaded playoff series drought.
Such is the life of an offense built around one player. When that player is available, you look like a genius. When that player is hurt, you are dead in the water.
What also doesn’t help is that Donovan Mitchell has averaged 33.9 points in his last two playoff appearances. With Doncic potentially not available to match his production, Dallas could have a huge mountain to climb. Still, Doncic has nearly a full week to prepare and rehab. If he can get out on the floor and play well, anything is possible.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “They’re good, they’re well-coached, they got All-Stars and they’ve been together for a while… They’ve been through a lot of playoff games together. This is going to be a great test for us… [it]should be a fun series.”
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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.