Kristaps Porzingis knew his comeback from anterior cruciate ligament surgery was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
So, when he glanced at the stat sheet following Friday’s 118-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and saw that he missed seven of his nine 3-point attempts, he didn’t exactly beat himself over the head with disappointment.
“Naw, I didn’t rush it at all,” Porzingis said, referring to his 3-point attempts. “Of those nine shots, three of them or four of them, I let it go and I’m already stepping back like, ‘Oh it’s good.’
“And I can feel it’s good. And everything was short, but it was right on. Maybe a little more legs. I’ll look at the film. I’m not worried about that one bit.”
Neither are the Mavs, who dropped to 0-3 after losing their preseason home opener before 17,082 fans at American Airlines Center.
Porzingis, who underwent ACL surgery on Feb. 13, 2018, finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shots, and he also had five rebounds in 24 minutes. But after getting 18 points in only 19 workmanlike minutes during Wednesday’s game in Detroit, quite naturally he wanted to piggy-back off that solid performance and raise his game to a higher level.
“We’re going to keep looking at everything we’re doing and we’re certainly going to make adjustments,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got to get him involved on some inside options, for sure. We’ve really been working on the space-and-pace game, but we’re going to do some other different things as well.”
Luka Doncic led the Mavs with 27 points and seven rebounds in only 23 minutes. Doncic, who buried a pair of 3-pointers just before halftime, was especially lethal at the free throw line where he made 10-of-11 shots.
“I knew I could make free throws and I’ve been working on it the whole summer,” said Doncic, who sjot 71.3 percent from the line last season as a rookie and was 5-of-10 from the stripe Wednesday at Detroit. “I wasn’t worried about anything, so I‘ve just got to keep it going like today.”
This was a tough outing for the Mavs, who were playing their third game in four days, and against one of the NBA’s best teams.
When the Mavs fell behind, 39-24, early in the second quarter, it was mainly because they went through a stretch where they converted just 2-of-22 shots. They also had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who collected a game-high 34 points and grabbed 11 boards.
Meanwhile, guard J.J. Barea played in his first game since suffering a ruptured right Achilles tendon last season on Jan. 11 at Minnesota. Barea, who received a loud ovation from the crowd when he entered the game midway through the first quarter, finished with three points in 12 minutes.
“I wanted to give him a long run tonight,” Carlisle said. “This is a beginning in terms of real NBA game action.
“At the Fan Jam he played real well, but we have two more games, which are important. We don’t have as many as we used to. He will continue to play and we want to get everybody ready. We’re going to need everybody.”
The Mavs made things interesting and actually drew within two points of the Bucks on two occasions, the last time at 113-111 with one minute left following a pair of free throws from Antonius Cleveland. But Milwaukee’s Frank Mason buried two charity tosses and Dragan Bender added a 3-pinter to account for the game’s final five points.
Carlisle’s squad played its third game without center Dwight Powell, who is nursing a strained left hamstring injury that will also keep him out of the remaining two preseason games.
“There are no excuses,” Carlisle said. “We would be doing better, certainly, if Powell was out there, but that’s not how this league works. We need him back, but not until he’s really ready to come back.
“You got to concentrate on the guys you have available and you got to work to get better with them. These are great games for us. They’re not easy – not easy to defend. They have a lot of skill and put you in a lot of tough spots, so we have to get better from this.”
Besides Doncic and Porzingis, Boban Marjanovic tallied 16 points and snatched a team-high eight rebounds for the Mavs, Justin Jackson scored 13 points, Jalen Brunson popped in 12 points in only 12 minutes, and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 10 points.
Still, Porzingis figures this was just one of those nights where the basketball gods weren’t on his side.
“It’s preseason and I’m trying to figure out also how to fit in the system and be comfortable out there and get the shots that I want to get,” he said. “I missed too many open shots. It would have looked way different if I would have hit a few more shots early and then get in a better rhythm.
“On the other hand, there’s a lot more things I can do if I’m not making shots. I just have to organize everything in my mind and go out there and play hard, play the right way, lead on offense, on defense and slowly we’ll figure it out. I’ll also get a feel for everybody and everybody will get a feel for me and we’ll put this thing together and everything will be all right.”