Mavericks second-year point guard Luka Doncic has spared no foe in fashioning an MVP resume this season, producing at a historic clip relative to any 20-year-old the NBA has seen.
On Nov. 24, the Houston Rockets experienced first-hand the devastation Doncic often inflicts, succumbing down the stretch of a 137-123 home loss at Toyota Center while Doncic posted 41 points, six rebounds and 10 assists. The Rockets proved helpless in his wake, with Doncic showcasing his blend of step-back 3-pointers, crafty forays into the lane and exceptional court vision to pace the Dallas attack. It was an effort the Rockets won’t soon forget.
But with Doncic spraining his right ankle in practice late Thursday, the Rockets won’t have to concern themselves with the Slovenian when Houston hosts the Mavericks Friday at Toyota Center.
Doncic did not accompany the team on the flight to Houston and is likely to be sidelined Saturday when Dallas plays the second game of a back-to-back against the Atlanta Hawks.
“We’ve done it before,” Mavericks reserve guard J.J. Barea said to the team website. “It’s not easy but it gives more opportunities to other guys. We got to go out there and step up. We don’t have our best player, so everybody’s got to step up and go down to Houston and get a win.”
Doncic missed four games in December with a sprain of the same ankle, with the Mavericks splitting that quartet of contests. Dallas has certainly come to rely on Doncic and his averages of 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists. But the league’s most efficient offense proved it can survive in a pinch with Doncic unavailable thanks to a wealth of able contributors complementing center Kristaps Porzingis, who takes a central role when Doncic sits.
During that four-game stretch without Doncic, Porzingis averaged 22.5 points and 13.8 rebounds while blocking 2.8 shots. Porzingis has thrived serving as a second fiddle to Doncic, but his undeniable talent resonates when the moment calls for him to play the part of linchpin.
However, matters might be complicated for Dallas. Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is questionable with lower-back tightness. He scored a season-high 31 points in the first meeting with Houston.
The Rockets, tied with the Mavericks for fifth in the Western Conference, followed a spirited, short-handed win at Utah on Monday with a defensive clunker against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. After dropping three of four games on their previous homestand, the Rockets talked openly of regaining their stride and perhaps building some momentum into the All-Star break.
Houston instead split its four-game road trip and has idled since winning eight of 10 through Jan. 8, going 4-7 since. Guard James Harden returned from a two-game injury hiatus against Portland yet continued his shooting struggles, going 5 of 18 in the 125-112 loss.
Harden is shooting just 32.9 percent over his last 10 games, including 22.5 percent on 3-pointers. It will be difficult for the Rockets to reclaim their footing if Harden can’t rediscover his shooting stroke.
“A lot of ups and downs, obviously,” Harden said of the road trip. “A lot of emotion. Obviously a tough week but 2-2 isn’t bad. Obviously we wanted to be better but now we go home and try to finish off these few games.”
Houston plays five of its last seven games prior to the break at home.
–Field Level Media