DALLAS (AP) — Just as the Dallas Mavericks finally got home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time since winning the NBA title 11 years ago, they could face several games without their best player.
Star point guard Luka Doncic injured his left calf in the final game of the regular season and did not practice for the entire week leading up to Saturday’s opening game of the Western Conference first round against the Utah Jazz. Doncic is listed as doubtful for Game 1.
The Mavericks moved up to the fourth seed by going 36-12 since New Year’s Eve after a 16-18 start. The fifth-seeded Jazz finished 4-7 to fall behind the Mavericks.
In a game that was crucial to Dallas catching Utah, Doncic scored 32 points in a 114-100 win as defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert and 3-point threat Bojan Bogdanovic sat out for the Jazz.
Now the only player in the NBA to average at least 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists could be left out, while Donovan Mitchell-led Utah is close to full strength. Dallas hasn’t won a playoff series since the title season, losing in the first round six times.
“We’ve been preparing for Luka this whole series,” Jazz guard Mike Conley said. “We prepare for what it would be like without him. They’re a team with a deep roster of guys who can make plays. They’ve shown they can do that over time.”
If Doncic doesn’t play, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson could be Dallas’ first two scoring options.
Dinwiddie, acquired from Washington in the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Wizards, had his highest-scoring game with the Mavericks (36 points) the first time he played without Doncic.
Brunson, a second-round draft pick the same year Dallas traded for third overall pick Doncic in 2018, has been starting alongside the three-time All-Star for most of the season after being his backup the first three years. together.
A year after his role diminished as the series progressed in a seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Brunson could end up in a leadership position similar to his Villanova days, where he won two NCAA championships in three years. .
“I’m really not too worried about putting pressure on myself,” said Brunson, who averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists in the regular season. “I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as an opportunity.”
PLAY OFF MODE
Mitchell’s playoff prowess has been on full display the past two years.
The three-time All-Star averaged a career-best 36.3 points on 52.9% shooting in a seven-game series against Denver two years ago. Last season he averaged 32.3 points in 10 games against Memphis and the Clippers. Mitchell has averaged nearly five 3-pointers made in his last 17 playoff games.
“I can see the way he’s working right now in practice, before practice and after practice,” Gobert said. “Everything he does is at a high level.”
The home court seems to matter quite a bit in this series. The Mavericks are 58-36 all-time at home against the Jazz, including the playoffs. Utah is 73-25 against Dallas in Salt Lake City.
However, one of those road wins for the Mavericks was a playoff breakthrough for young Dirk Nowitzki and company in 2001. Nowitzki was making his postseason debut when Dallas won 84-83 in the decisive Game 5.
HEALTHY AT LAST
The Jazz enter the playoffs healthy for a change.
Bogdanovic was sidelined against Denver two seasons ago after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery. Conley missed five games against the Clippers last season while recovering from a hamstring injury.
Mitchell was plagued by a serious ankle injury late in the Los Angeles series, when the top-seeded Jazz won the first two games at home before losing four in a row.
“We got our guys focused on the right things and not what’s going on outside,” Conley said. “Now we can lock down and just go after something that we all want.”
ALL WELL UNDER KIDD
In his Dallas coaching debut, Jason Kidd has led the Mavericks to their highest position since he was the point guard on Nowitzki’s 2011 championship team.
Dallas last got home court in a five-game victory over Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City in the West finals. The Mavericks beat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
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