October 20, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

The Mavs are finally healthy. So, when can we legitimately gauge their potential in the West?

While frustration and urgency showed in the Mavericks’ body language and reflections Monday night after their last-second loss to the Suns, they held onto one positive thought.

The 109-108 defeat was the first time all season they deployed a completely healthy lineup, thanks to Maxi Kleber’s return from COVID-19 protocol.

That softened the sting of their losing streak extending to six games, but also prompted another question in a season full of uncertainty:

Now that the team’s lineup is intact, how long until we can legitimately gauge their potential, or lack thereof, to compete in the Western Conference this season?

The Mavericks avoided putting a specific target on the sample size, but their recent incremental return to full strength shows the next two weeks — starting Wednesday night in Atlanta — should give a clearer picture of what to expect, or bemoan, this season.

“Of course, we would like to have everybody from the first game, but the situation is what it is,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “I can’t really put a number and say, ‘OK, after this many games we’re going to be playing well together’ and so on. It’s a day-by-day thing.

“Once you get a win, it all eases up and things happen more naturally, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

A look at Josh Richardson’s January might provide the most concise blueprint for how soon Dallas could develop a strong team rhythm.

Richardson was among the first three Mavericks to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols Jan. 8, quarantining for more than a week in a Denver hotel.

Nine games and 20 days later, he returned to the court in the Mavericks’ first game of consecutive losses to Utah. Over the next three outings, Richardson averaged seven points, 2.3 rebounds and shot 38.5% from the field.

Come Monday night, however, Richardson shook his rust and some lingering knee pain to compile perhaps his best game as a Maverick: 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. He shot 56% from the field in 37 minutes.

The Mavericks’ spacing with Kleber returning to the starting lineup, allowing Porzingis to play at center, opened wide lanes for Richardson to cut to the basket from the wing. The three had never played together.

“Going in today in warm-ups, I definitely felt I was going to be able to be myself,” Richardson said. “I did that, but it’d have been a lot better with a win.”

Little about the coronavirus pandemic is straightforward, and Dallas has felt that perhaps the most of any NBA team during this no-bubble season.

The Mavericks lead the NBA with 41 man-games missed between the January absences of Kleber (11), Richardson (nine), Dorian Finney-Smith (nine), Dwight Powell (eight) and Jalen Brunson (four).

No player’s recovery from the virus — or from injury, like Porzingis faced nine games into the season — will unfold the same.

Kleber, for example, had some extra time to reacclimate before his live-game return Monday, but the Mavericks’ leader in 3-point shooting percentage finished 1 of 5 from the field for two points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.

“You can tell it’s difficult the first night out,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Even locked into the NBA’s physical and mental “one-day-at-a-time” approach, the Mavericks recognize they don’t have the luxury of time to slowly progress in this condensed campaign that began with lofty preseason expectations.

After a 2018 draft-rivalry showdown Wednesday with the Atlanta Hawks and Trae Young, Dallas will play consecutive games against the once-dynastic Golden State Warriors.

A rematch with Atlanta, a national-TV meeting against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, and a clash with the Portland Trail Blazers loom in the first half of February, too.

But amid their slide to an 8-13 record and 13th in the West, the Mavericks marked another hopeful development Tuesday.

Their daily injury report listed no physical ailment or illness for a second consecutive day.

That’s a streak the Mavericks will always welcome.

Losing streaks

The Mavericks’ six-game losing streak ties for the third-longest under coach Rick Carlisle. Here are the losing streaks of six games or more under Carlisle:

No. Streak start Streak end
8 11/09/2016 11/25/2016
7 03/02/2019 03/14/2019
6 01/06/2011 01/17/2011
6 12/20/2012 12/30/2012
6 10/26/2017 11/04/2017
6 10/24/2018 11/02/2018
6 12/13/2018 12/23/2018
6 1/23/2021 Current
Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) passes the ball out as Charlotte Hornets forward Jalen McDaniels (6) defends during the second quarter of play in the home opener at American Airlines Center on Wednesday, December 30, 2020 in Dallas. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) looks on from the bench after committing a technical foul during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns in Dallas, Saturday, January 30, 2021.

Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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