DALLAS - Dwight Powell has been penciled in as the Dallas Mavericks' starting center this season, coach Rick Carlisle's attraction to the big-men pairing of DP and Kristaps Porzingis among the reasons. But there is now a hitch, however temporary, in the plan.
The Mavs announced on Friday night before the tipoff of their home preseason game against the Bucks - what would become a 118-111 loss - that Powell's hamstring will keep him sidelined for all three of the final preseason games.
Carlisle said Powell is "progressing.'' This is good, right?
I think it's wildly premature to assume that this alters Dallas' plans for its NBA regular-season opener Oct. 23 at home against the Wizards. I also think it's premature to assume this means the 6-10, 240-pound Powell can't simply pick up where he left off in the final quarter of last season, when he averaged 14.7 points and 7.6 rebounds in 31 minutes per, an outburst that helped justify Dallas' commitment to giving the 28-year-old a contract extension.
Powell (who on the year in 2018-19 averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds while providing athleticism, energy and conscientiousness on the floor) sustained the injury during a practice on Oct. 5. "Progressing'' is a positive thing, but in Powell's stead, Maxi Kleber figures to become the "other'' big man of record in Dallas' lineup. ... Or, the Mavs can downshift, size-wise, to Dorian Finney-Smith as a first-teamer, as was the case against the Bucks.
And amid it all, there is Porzingis (when he gets "right'') plus anybody. KP plus Luka Doncic? That's an easy call. But how about KP plus Seth Curry on the pick-and-roll?
Dallas closed out the half with great individual work from Luka ...
And he finished with 27 points and seven rebounds (and upped his free-throw game with 10-of-11 shooting). Meanwhile, Porzingis totaled 11 points but struggled a bit from the floor -- as he himself admitted in the postgame locker room.
J.J. Barea made his on-court return nine months to the day following his nasty Achilles tear and fared well. So did Boban Marjanovic, who crowded 16 points and eight rebounds into 16 minutes. And the same with Jalen Brunson, who offered Dallas a late push with with 12 points in just 12 minutes.
Ultimately, league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo - who did not treat this like a meaningless preseason game - was the largest story of the night, with 34 points and 11 boards in 23 minutes. Does any team have a defensive answer for that? Can we wonder whether, down the road, the both-ends-of-the-floor presence of Powell will help?
“We’d be doing better, certainly, with Powell out there,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But that’s not the way this league works ... We need him back. But ... we have to keep working to get better with the guys we have. ... We have to get better from this.''
For now, Carlisle obviously can make any number of other combinations work. And they will work better than they have during this 0-3 preseason. But none of them will work as well as having both Powell and Kleber at the coach's disposal to team with a "fit-in'' Porzingis - and that will hopefully come with more Powell "progression'' in the coming days.