Worst fears of the Dallas Mavericks almost came to fruition on Saturday, when Luka Doncic went down in a heap behind the basket, clutching his right ankle. Replays showed that he hadn’t suffered a run-of-the-mill ankle tweak, but a near-complete turn that normally results in serious injury.
Needless to say, this is not how ankles are supposed to bend.
Shortly after the Mavericks’ valiant comeback effort against the Miami Heat fell just short, it was reported that Doncic had avoided a major injury. In fact, he was running on the underwater treadmill in the locker room when his teammates returned.
Even so, Doncic is poised to miss at least a couple weeks of play while recovering from a “moderate” sprained right ankle – an absence that comes at the worst possible time for the Mavericks.
Three of Dallas’ next four games are on national television. Obviously, Doncic watching from the sidelines won’t help the NBA remedy its ratings issue. But of far greater concern for the Mavericks is the competition they’re facing over the next week.
One of the most brutal four-game stretches of the season begins on Monday when they meet the juggernaut Milwaukee Bucks on the road. Dallas faces the Boston Celtics at home two days later, then completes its foray through the top of the Eastern Conference with road tilts versus the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors.
It’s not like the Mavericks are 17-8, with the league’s third-best net rating , by virtue of beating up inferior opponents alone. They already own impressive wins over the Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, and Houston Rockets.
But it’s also undeniable that Dallas has benefited from a relatively soft early-season schedule. The Mavericks played losing teams in five straight games before Saturday’s loss to Miami, and its opponents to date have a .477 wining percentage , fourth-lowest in the NBA.
Despite those damning indicators of Dallas’ level of success over the next week, there’s also evidence suggesting Rick Carlisle’s team should fare just fine without its superstar.
The Mavericks boast the league’s most efficient offense by a comfortable margin, and not just because Doncic has made the leap toward legitimate MVP contention. Dallas’ offensive rating of 111.4 with Doncic on the bench is a team-low, but would still rank sixth in the league overall. Carlisle has a long history of getting the most out of his reserves, a trend that’s continued this season. Lineups featuring bench stalwart JJ Barea without Doncic, for instance, have a ridiculous offensive rating of 120.7 .
But Barea is wildly overstretched as a team’s primary playmaker, and backup guard Delon Wright is at his best playing next to another dynamic ball handler. Worse is that Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t lived up to expectations as an individual scorer. He’s consistently struggled to create high-value shots against size mismatches, and has been assisted on 77.8% of his makes , a career-high.
Hard times are coming for the Mavericks, basically. Their bench won’t be as effective by moving Barea or Wright into the starting lineup, and they lack the raw defensive talent to keep imminently dangerous offenses like Milwaukee’s and Boston’s in check.
Should four consecutive losses to Eastern Conference alter the collective appraisal of Dallas’ standing league-wide, though? No way. Doncic is already one of the most valuable players in basketball, and the Mavericks aren’t expected to compete for a championship this season anyway.
Breathe easy, Dallas fans. Doncic will be back soon, and any degree of success over the next week will simply provide even more room for optimism going forward.