Porzingis says things ‘starting to click’ with Luka

DALLAS — All-Star point guard Luka Doncic displayed no signs of rust in his return after missing seven games due to a sprained right ankle. Nor did he disrupt the rhythm Kristaps Porzingis established during Doncic’s absence.

Doncic had 33 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists in the Dallas Mavericks130-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. Porzingis contributed 27 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocked shots in the blowout victory during the Mavs’ finale before the All-Star break.

It was one of the young Dallas franchise cornerstones’ best performances as a duo, as Doncic and Porzingis showed the kind of synergy they struggled to form early in the season and then saw interrupted by extended injury absences for each.

“It’s great that we both had those nights,” said Doncic, who fed Porzingis on five of his eight assists. “We’ve got to keep working, and we’re going to get better and better.”

The 20-year-old Doncic, an All-Star starter averaging 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists in his second season, has put up spectacular numbers on a consistent basis when healthy all season. Porzingis, 24, got off to a frustratingly slow start after sitting out the previous season and a half while recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee.

The chemistry between the two was clunky early in the season, while Doncic starred and Porzingis struggled. The Mavs averaged only 101.9 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor in the first 10 games.

As Porzingis accepted a secondary role, often spacing the floor as a weakside 3-point threat, the Dallas offense scored at a historic rate. The Mavs averaged 124.0 points per 100 possessions with Doncic and Porzingis on the floor during a monthlong stretch after those first 10 games, and Dallas went 11-3 during that span. (Dallas’ offensive rating of 116.5 this season ranks as the best ever.)

Doncic and Porzingis had played only 160 minutes together over a 30-game span since then entering Wednesday night. Doncic twice sprained his right ankle, causing him to miss a total of 11 games. Between those sprains, Porzingis missed 10 consecutive games due to soreness in his right knee.

If there was a silver lining with Doncic’s ankle sprains for the Mavs, it was that Porzingis thrived as the focal point of the offense.

“Maybe in a sense where [I could] get my rhythm a bit more. Maybe in that sense,” said Porzingis, who averaged 28.8 points per game on 48.8% shooting during Doncic’s recent absence, compared to 18.4 points on 41.6% shooting overall this season. “But I felt like, yeah, right before he got hurt, we were also getting in a pretty good rhythm, we were playing with each other. Tonight was great.”

The Mavs shot 56.5% from the floor and 42.5% from 3-point range in the rout of the Kings. Doncic was 10-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-7 from long distance, while Porzingis was 11-of-16 overall and 2-of-5 on 3s.

The dynamic between Dallas’ costars has changed since earlier in the season due in part to the season-ending Achilles tendon injury suffered by starting center Dwight Powell, one of the NBA’s most efficient pick-and-roll finishers. The 7-foot-3 Porzingis is now utilized much more often in that action with Doncic, and they’re developing a feel for each other in those situations.

“They’re two great young players that really do a lot to enhance each other’s games,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “The playmaking, communication and eye contact between them throughout the game offensively was fantastic. Porzingis mixed rolls and pops, Luka was driving and stepping back, and they were playing great off each other. It’s a great thing to see, particularly heading into the break.”

Porzingis has spoken openly on several occasions about needing time to get comfortable in a new system, particularly when he was getting a large share of his shots as a spot-up shooter from 3-point range. The Mavs’ offense has evolved to mix in more midrange opportunities for Porzingis, an element of his game that he values but wasn’t analytics-friendly earlier this season.

“Luka’s done a great job communicating to me [about] where I wanna get the ball,” Porzingis said. “He’s also getting used to playing with me and he’s really starting to find me in those spots where I’m comfortable, that midrange area. And slowly these things are starting to click. I think as we keep working, playing together, it’s going to get better and better and better.”

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