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Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II is available for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night. Lively missed Game 4 with a neck sprain, and it was obvious how much the Mavericks missed his presence in their 105-100 loss on Tuesday. The Mavericks have a 3-1 lead in the series and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 5.

Lively sustained a neck injury in the Mavericks' Game 3 win against the Timberwolves. It happened in the second quarter when Karl-Anthony Towns' knee collided with the back of Lively's head as he fell to the ground. He immediately began grabbing at his head and stayed on the ground for a long time. He was helped back to the locker room by teammates and was visibly shaken up from the collision.

Lively was first ruled questionable to return to that game, but then the Mavericks ruled him out for the duration of Game 3, and while they managed to get a win without their rookie big man, his absence was certainly felt in the Game 4 loss. Without Lively coming in off the bench, the Mavericks scrambled to try and find solutions to contend with Minnesota's obvious size advantage. They tried to give backup center Dwight Powell minutes, but he was quickly outmatched against both Rudy Gobert and Towns. Maxi Kleber did return to the lineup in Game 4 after missing a chunk of the playoffs with a shoulder injury, but he doesn't provide the same level of rim protection and energy as Lively does.

As a result, the Timberwolves were able to get pretty much whatever they wanted, as Anthony Edwards was able to attack the paint without Lively looming under the basket. It also created mismatch opportunities for the Wolves, where they forced Luka Doncic to guard Rudy Gobert at times, allowing the Frenchman to get easy buckets around the rim and get to the free-throw line. After the loss, Doncic spoke of Lively's importance to this Mavericks team.

"Yeah, he's a big piece to our defense and offense," Doncic said. "So we miss him a lot."

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