DALLAS — As the Dallas Mavericks welcomed fans back into the American Airlines Center for the first time since March 2020, Kristaps Porziņģis and company made sure to send them home with a smile under their mask.
Simply put, January was horrid for Dallas. Losing key members of the rotation during the toughest part of the schedule will do that to a team. Now, on the other side of a rough opening month to the year, and with a full roster, the Mavericks can claim a humble winning streak as they go for three in a row against Atlanta on Wednesday.
The Mavs got to this point by avenging their worst loss of the season against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in a 134-132 thriller on Saturday and by beating the only team beneath them in the Western Conference.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were missing key members of their team and lost their league-worst 18th game of the season 127-122, but, as the Mavericks know all too well, you have to make do with what you have when you have it.
Luckily for the Mavs, Porziņģis is making his presence felt again. Dallas had struggled to consistently give Luka Dončić help, but the Latvian big man stepped up with 27 points, 13 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists and 6 blocks on Monday night.
All four of those stats either tied or broke season-highs for Porziņģis, and resulted in his fourth game with the Mavericks where he has recorded 20+ points, 10+ boards, and 5+ blocks, which tied him with Dirk Nowitzki and Space Jam star Shawn Bradley for the most in franchise history.
Porziņģis’ time on the court, a leading story in every game, was 30:47.
“For me as a big, I just feel better when I’m playing longer stretches,” Porziņģis spoke of his playing time. “Because I don’t have the ball in my hands the whole time and I have to get in that rhythm and find my opportunities and find my situations. It’s definitely working better.”
Porziņģis is now averaging 20.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game on career highs in FG% (46.0%) and FT% (85.4%) this season.
“I’m just more calm when I know I’m not coming out early,” he remarked on being more aggressive with his touches. “Also, I’m spending more time on the court, playing more games, playing more games with these guys, and all of that adding up. All of that it’s coming together and we’re playing better basketball.”
It was apparent early on that this would be a good night for Porziņģis. He was all over the floor, finding his way to the post while his teammates were finding him for high percentage baskets. And, on the defensive end, he was throwing a block party on the Minnesota frontcourt.
Coach Rick Carlisle remarked that Porziņģis is pushing his game into focus instead of acquiescing his way into more minutes. “He was moving the ball beautifully and rolling and cutting beautifully, which opened up other guys. That’s a real positive thing.”
Carlisle has been careful with Porziņģis’ minutes allocation in his return from offseason surgery, but had nothing but praise for Porziņģis effort. “He was great at everything. He was making shots. It’s clear that as each game goes on, everything is getting better and more the way he wants it and more the way we want it.”
Getting time off during back-to-back games is usually a request from the league’s veterans, but Porziņģis seemingly wants no part of it, wanting to earn his distinction as the Mavericks highest-paid player.
“They (team medical staff) just wanted to make sure I’m fresh every time I’m on the court, that’s why I was playing shorter stretches. Now I’m playing multiple games and feeling better, I’m getting those longer stretches,” Porziņģis continued. “It’s how we played in the Bubble, and in the Bubble that was the best basketball I’ve played here in Dallas. That’s how I feel the most comfortable.”
Porziņģis’ six blocks and the Mavericks’ win meant a new recipient of the Defensive Player of the Game championship belt, the cherry on top to the standout performance.
An elevated game and confidence for Porziņģis is key for the Mavericks as they work their way out of their January slump. Luka Dončić can’t be expected to do it all. And while Dončić added 26 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists to the ledger, Tim Hardaway (24 points) and Josh Richardson (18 points) were also key. Richardson’s eight assists were the first time during the season that someone other than Dončić owned that category. The multi-faceted offense that drives the Mavericks’ hopes this season was on display.
As Porziņģis’ scoring punch returns, and his defensive abilities are showcased, having their 7’3’’ unicorn fully showing out as they reach the All-Star break bodes well for the season’s second half.
Do you think Kristaps Porziņģis and the Dallas Mavericks will secure a third consecutive win on Wednesday? Make your predictions with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.