Luka Doncic, for the better part of a week and a half, owns the most famous left calf in the NBA.
So, when he made himself available to the media after practice on Wednesday, there was a genuine sense that his rehab for a left calf strain he suffered against San Antonio in Game 82 of the regular season is heading in the right direction. Subsequently, those assumptions were vindicated, as Doncic’s status was upgraded on the latest injury report. For the first time, all postseason, Dallas’ star was listed as questionable ahead of Game 3 against the Utah Jazz.
However, Doncic’s upgraded status does not mean he is guaranteed to play Thursday night.
“If there’s no risk to injury, I’ll be out there,” Doncic said on Wednesday. “I just miss basketball — I miss it so much. We made a lot of progress and I am happy about that… I’m going to see how I feel and talk to the medical staff. But I’m feeling way better.”
The Mavericks are playing it safe with Doncic’s return. No one can blame the organization. In 2019, when Kevin Durant suffered an injury similar to Doncic’s, he returned too soon. Durant then tore his Achilles.
Dallas is actively trying to avoid that situation. However, Doncic’s positive spirit should indicate that his recovery is heading in the right direction. Positivity aside, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd echoed a similar level of concern regarding Doncic’s plausible return.
“it’s just a matter of how he feels,” Kidd said.
Kidd also acknowledges that it’s also a matter of what the training staff thinks ahead of a pivotal Game 3 in Utah.
If Doncic can return, it may offer a glimmer of hope in a first-round playoff series that has been defined by his absence.
What Doncic’s realistic return would look like
Too many are expecting Doncic to look like the end of the season version of himself. That’s not realistic.
With injuries, there is always a readjustment period. And in Doncic’s case, his readjustment period takes place amidst the most important game(s) of the season.
If Doncic can play, he will be aided by the lackadaisical defense Utah’s lead guards play. Against Utah’s collection of guards, Jalen Brunson scored a career-high 41 points. Somewhat healthy Doncic, with his size, would have a field day against Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Co.
Working against Doncic is his conditioning and the probable minute restriction he will play on. Kidd said his minutes will be dictated by what the training staff decides. If Doncic is only at 75 percent, it is hard to see him playing 40-42 minutes a game. And with Doncic being a rhythm player, that may hurt some of his production.
Still, 75 percent of Doncic is better than most of the NBA.
The superstar’s return also provides an emotional boost. Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie have been fine as primary focal points in the offense. However, neither would contest that they are the better option with Doncic in the equation.
Whatever condition Doncic’s left calf may be in, all signs point to his imminent return. And though he probably won’t be at full strength, merely having him on the floor is an improvement from Game 1 and 2.
“I don’t know if I’m gonna be 100 percent,” Doncic said. “That’s tough right now, but if I’m ready, and there’s no risk of injury, I’ll be out there… I miss basketball.”
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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY.