The Dallas Mavericks are sliding down the West standings and Kristaps Porzingis' knee injury isn't helping
Porzingis has missed five games so far and is expected to be out at least two more
The Dallas Mavericks have cooled off recently after a hot start to the season, and in their last 10 games, they've gone 5-5 and have slid all the way down to the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference. The pairing of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis hasn't quite gotten off the ground just yet, but, the Mavs have still managed to still have the No.1-ranked offense in the league. Doncic is playing at an MVP-caliber level, Dallas' role players have been exceeding expectations, and while Porzingis has struggled to find his place on this new team, he still contributes a significant amount on both ends of the floor.
Over the last five games though, Porzingis has been watching from the sidelines with what the Mavericks are describing only as knee soreness, and in that time span, Dallas has gone 2-3, dropping games to the Charlotte Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder along the way. The Mavericks have been tight-lipped about Porzingis' injury, and as of Thursday afternoon have ruled out their star big man for at least the next two games against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday and Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. Porzingis also had a platelet-rich-plasma injection in his right knee to help with the soreness he's been experiencing since New Year's Eve, as reported by ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
It's understandable that this franchise wants to use extreme caution with any injury involving Porzingis, considering this season is the first time he's played since going down with an ACL tear in 2018 while with the New York Knicks. Head coach Rick Carlisle said that next week could potentially be a target date for Porzingis' return to a Mavericks team that has sorely missed his presence.
Dallas' most recent loss to the Denver Nuggets is the perfect example of how greatly Porzingis impacts the game for the Mavericks. Without Porzingis on the floor, Nikola Jokic put up 33 points including the game-winning bucket where he was able to back down Dorian Finney-Smith until he was almost underneath the rim to have an easy look. Porzingis' size could have at least offered more as a deterrent to Jokic being able to get so deep.
Aside from that, Porzingis is the second-leading scorer for the Mavericks, averaging 17.3 points, a career-high 9.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. While his shooting percentages have been down this season, he's been able to impact the game in other ways, like with his shot-blocking ability and his newfound rebounding prowess. Without Porzingis, the Mavericks have been out-rebounded 266-249 over the past five games, a clear indicator that regardless of him not being fully acclimated to the offense, he's still at the very least going to help control the boards.
Porzingis' absence also maximizes the amount of weight that's on Doncic's shoulders. In the five games that Porzingis has been out, Doncic's minutes have increased from 32.1 per game to 37.8 per game, because he's been the entirety of the Mavs' offense through this five-game stretch. Without Doncic on the floor, that No. 1-ranked offense that Rick Carlisle runs drops from a 120.0 offensive rating down to 111.2. At least when Porzingis is healthy, Doncic can sit for a minute while the seven-footer runs through some pick and rolls with Seth Curry and Delon Wright.
While Porzingis' return will likely be sooner than later, if the Mavericks have learned anything through this five-game stretch it's just how much 'The Unicorn' brings to the table. Dallas will want him to be 100 percent healthy, of course, but the sooner that happens the better because while the Mavericks aren't in any real danger of dropping out of the top-eight spots in the West right now, only two games separate them and the Thunder for the No. 7 spot, and that's a disappointing place to be for a team that got out to such a fantastic start to the season.
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