Should the Mavericks play Kristaps Porzingis down the stretch or save him for the playoffs?
As the season winds down and the playoffs approach, there is a myriad of story lines to discuss. Will the Mavericks avoid the play in? If so, what seed will they end up with? Can they hold off a healthy Lebron and earn a first round matchup with the injury depleted Nuggets? It’s impossible to discuss any of these questions while avoiding the 7’3” elephant in the room. What do the Mavericks do about Kristaps Porzingis?
It’s a question that’s relevant now as the Mavericks crawl to the finish line and will be the single most important decision Dallas makes in the offseason. We can tackle what the Mavs should do with Porzingis in the offseason at a different time. It’s a complicated question that will be greatly influenced by how Porzingis performs down the stretch and during the playoffs.
In the short term, the Mavericks must decide whether the benefits of resting Porzingis outweigh the downside of attempting to finish strong at a time where a single loss can be the difference between the 5th and 7th seed.
Porzingis looked terrible against the Pistons, there’s no way around that. He looked uninterested and showed no desire to elevate his level of play in a game without Luka Doncic. Historically, Porzingis plays well in such games. He usually relishes the opportunity and has posted 25.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game in 13 games without Doncic in the lineup. It seems Porzingis was removed from the game due to injury concerns with his knee, but his energy was non-existent in the quarter. The continued uncertainty with his availability leads us back to the original question, what should the Mavs do with Porzingis?
Any scenario where the Mavericks advance to the second round of the playoffs involves a healthy Porzingis playing at a high level. If a first round playoff win truly is the objective, Dallas should rest Porzingis until the last week of the season. The last week will feature games against the Pelicans, Raptors, and Timberwolves. The Pelicans and Timberwolves are likely to prioritize lottery balls over playing late season spoiler. The Raptors are currently 3 games out of the 10th seed and appear unlikely to be chasing wins at that point. Those 3 games present an ideal time to get Porzingis back on track and in rhythm as they head into the playoffs.
Dallas plays questionable defense in Porzingis’s absence but should have enough on offense to carry them to the 6th seed. If the Mavericks to find themselves in a play in scenario, a healthy and rested Porzingis would give them an immediate boost and increase their chances of ultimately making it into the playoffs.
This situation is far from ideal and there may not be a right answer that appeases both the player and the team at such a critical point in the season. The doomsday scenario involves Porzingis sustaining a season ending injury. Taking that possibility off the table may be the best the Mavericks can hope for moving forward.