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Jalen Green, the young Houston Rockets and classes at ‘John Lucas University’



JALEN GREEN HEARS the wrath from the old man with the unmistakable, raspy voice.

It’s a little less than an hour before the Rockets’ shootaround begins, but almost half the roster is already on the Footprint Center floor in Phoenix, running three-man pick-and-roll drills.

John Lucas, the Rockets’ 68-year-old assistant coach, provides running commentary throughout the workout, usually while standing on the baseline. Green, the Houston Rockets‘ prized rookie shooting guard drafted No. 2 overall, is Lucas’ primary target. Green had just picked up his dribble near the free throw line and nonchalantly scooped a lefty lob pass when Lucas peppers his 19-year-old pupil.

“That’s too f—ing sloppy!” Lucas hollers. “This ain’t high school! You can’t throw s— like that!”

Lucas shuffles into the middle of the lane, hands up high like a center defending the play. He declares how easy it’d be for an opposing big man to break up that pass, adding another turnover to the rebuilding Rockets’ league-leading total.

John Wall — the maximum-salaried, All-Star point guard mothballed as the Rockets rebuild around the backcourt of No. 2 overall pick Green and 21-year-old Kevin Porter Jr. — quietly instructs Green to penetrate to the dotted line, putting himself in position to make a read based on how the opposing center reacts. Wall joined the drills after wrapping up an hour-long workout with Lucas, part of his efforts to stay sharp in hopes that Houston finds a trade destination for him.

Seconds later, Green executes as he was told, throwing a pass that Lucas praises: “There you go!”

Welcome to today’s class at “John Lucas University,” as general manager Rafael Stone refers to the Rockets’ developmental program for the several college-aged players on their roster. The drills vary by the day, but Lucas is always ratcheting up the intensity, putting the players in competitive situations, including full-court one-on-one contests.

Lucas’ hard-nosed tactics and colorful commentary — pushing, prodding, occasionally praising and sometimes cracking up the players — are a constant. For the 1-9 Rockets, who host No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons tonight (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN), the lessons are not only invaluable, they’re necessary.

“I’m being told all the time, ‘Coach, you can’t be too hard on [Green],'” Lucas says later. “I’m talking about, ‘I’m not hard enough,’ because I see the potential. Everybody has a different way of loving somebody.

“My love for him is not praising his ass, but to keep a foot in it.”

It’s an approach that Green, one of four teenage rookies drafted by the Rockets in the first round, appreciates.

“He’s an old-school coach,” Green says. “A lot of s— talking. He’s real old-school, like a real OG.”

LUCAS’ FIRST FORAY into coaching came with the USBL’s Miami Tropics in 1992, when he bought the minor league franchise and won a pair of titles in his two-season stint.

Several players on those rosters had been in Lucas’ drug addiction aftercare program. He could certainly relate with those hoping for another chance in the NBA. Lucas’ own 14-year career, which started when the Rockets selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1976 draft, had been repeatedly derailed due to cocaine and alcohol addictions.

“I’m a dope fiend,” says Lucas, who has been sober since March 14, 1986, when he was waived to end his second stint in Houston. The Rockets had ordered him to take a drug test — it came back positive for cocaine — after Lucas had missed practice a few days earlier after awaking on a Houston street soaked in his own urine.

Lucas has been coaching since getting his first taste of it with the Tropics, all the while overseeing the aftercare program he developed, which focuses primarily on helping NBA and NFL players. He had brief stints as the head coach for the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers between 1994 and 2004. He also worked to develop dozens of players before they were drafted, including high schoolers Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Lucas has long been a major presence in the basketball grassroots scene, running boys’ and girls’ workouts, clinics and tournaments. Stone’s sons are among the hundreds of kids who have worked with Lucas, and Stone was so impressed that he pushed the Rockets to hire Lucas to lead their developmental program when they were putting together coach Mike D’Antoni’s staff in 2016.

“He makes hard work fun,” Stone says.

Lucas was a finalist in the Rockets’ search to replace D’Antoni before last season, in part because he had such strong relationships with the players, including James Harden. After Houston opted to hire Stephen Silas, a first-time head coach who toiled for more than two decades as an assistant, the Rockets prioritized keeping Lucas, promoting him to lead assistant.

Lucas helps run Houston’s defense, while Silas leans on his head-coaching experience with rebuilding teams in Philadelphia and Cleveland. And Lucas still runs the Rockets’ developmental program, the top priority for a franchise in the early stages of a rebuild.

“He is a tireless worker,” Silas says. “I mean, he is up at 8 o’clock in the morning working out a guy, then working out guys before practice, working out guys after practice and then again at night. He is dedicated, committed, and he just has that personality that everybody rallies around.

“Like nobody I’ve ever seen before, he can make guys do things they might not want to do and make it fun or make it important to them.”

PORTER RODE THE second bus to shootaround on the morning of Houston’s 123-111 loss to the Phoenix Suns, which followed the Rockets’ first full day off in about a month. Lucas requires Green to participate in the early sessions on game days. They are optional for Porter, whose attendance has been sporadic.

“It’s his third year, and I’ve got to respect that,” Lucas says. “I’m waiting for him to come willingly.”

It is technically Porter’s third NBA season, but nothing has been conventional about the first few years of his career.

Porter was considered a high-lottery talent, but he fell to the final pick of the first round in the 2019 draft due to off-court issues, stemming from an extraordinarily difficult upbringing. Porter oozed potential as a teenage rookie for the Cavaliers, averaging 10 points per game but never playing another game for the franchise.

The Cavs opted not to have Porter participate with the team in any capacity so that he could focus on his personal issues. He was arrested after flipping his Mercedes SUV in an early-morning crash on Nov. 15, 2020, when a loaded gun and small amount of marijuana were found in the vehicle, although charges were later dismissed.

“He’s definitely one of the most unique human beings on this planet. I’m grateful to know him.”

Kevin Porter Jr., on Rockets assistant coach John Lucas

The Cavs parted ways with Porter after he had a shouting match with team officials a couple of months later, when he was irate his locker had been moved. The Rockets pounced on the opportunity to provide Porter a change of scenery and second chance, sending a heavily protected second-round pick to Cleveland in a trade.

“We knew he had challenges,” Stone says. “That’s why we were able to get him. We’ve never asked him to be something he’s not, and we’ve never asked him to be perfect. What we have asked him to do is work …

“What we’ve gotten from him is [to] buy in, at least thus far, that we’re all on the same page and that we want the same things.”

The Rockets were willing to take a risk on Porter because the 6-foot-4, 205-pound lefty reminded them of a young James Harden. And, the front office and coaching staff were confident they could provide the structure and support “Scoot” needed to realize his potential. The latter is in large part due to Lucas’ guidance.

“He’s been someone Scoot can rely on and will be there day-to-day and has seen everything,” Stone says. “Whatever he’s going through, it’s not going to be more dramatic than what John lived. So I think [having Lucas] is a huge advantage for us organizationally, and we’ve leaned into that.

“It doesn’t mean you can compile a list of 15 reclamation projects, but it does mean with special people who you think have a chance, maybe you can give them the best chance.”

Houston came up with a plan for Porter to ease him back into NBA action while converting him from a wing to a point guard, beginning with sending him to the G League bubble with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, its affiliate. After dominating that competition, Porter showed flashes of stardom in 26 games for the Rockets last season, highlighted by a 50-point, 11-assist performance in a late-season win against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Porter was good enough, averaging 16.6 points and 6.3 assists per game, to convince the Rockets that handing him the reins of the offense was in the franchise’s best interest. It hasn’t been a smooth transition without having Wall to share playmaking duties, as Porter’s numbers have dipped significantly (12.3 points, 5.2 assists and 36.7% shooting). However, the Rockets are encouraged by Porter’s drastic defensive improvement, as Stone proudly noted that Porter now ranks 35th in one metric — FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR on/off rating — that ranked him 469th out of 474 players last season.

Lucas compares his approach to Porter’s development to “kid gloves,” saying he gauges Porter’s mood before determining how hard to push him that day. Lucas worries that Porter will tune him out if he demands too much.

“The biggest thing is getting to learn and know him without smothering him,” says Lucas, whose one firm rule for Porter is, “Don’t ever let me catch you lying to me.”

Lucas and Porter occasionally butt heads. They exchanged high-decibel expletives at each other across the gym during one practice, although Lucas softened his reply by punctuating it with, “But I love you.”

“He just always is on me,” Porter says. “I know that I’m in his spotlight. He really emphasizes improving myself.

“He’s definitely one of the most unique human beings on this planet. I’m grateful to know him. One word: unpredictable. …You don’t know what type of things he’s going to say, do, nothing.

“All you know is he’s going to be a great, genuine dude when you walk in the building, and he’s going to uplift a room.”

MOST PLAYERS STICK to a pregame warm-up routine, taking the same shots from the same spots night after night. That’s not how Lucas works with Green, making that time an on-court extension of the scouting report, having him work on the looks he’s most likely to get against that specific opponent.

The payoff comes in incremental progress, moments that serve as proof Green and the other young Rockets are learning, such as his driving dunk in Houston’s down-to-the-wire loss to the Lakers on Nov. 2.

The play went viral on social media, but it made Silas and Lucas proud because of something simple: the way Green slid toward the corner when Porter drove baseline, giving his teammate a target and setting himself up to attack a defender off the closeout. Green didn’t move from the wing on a similar play in the season opener, resulting in Porter’s pass sailing into the seats.

“Our measure of success is improvement,” Silas says.

The Rockets decided that throwing their core young players in the deep end made the most sense at this stage of their rebuild, no matter how far they sink in the standings after finishing last season with the NBA’s worst record (17-55).

“It’s going to be a tough year for us as we get better,” Lucas says.

“We’re all on the same page with wanting to win and wanting to be great,” Green says. “We know that’s going to take time, and we’re all bought in right now.”

Houston is particularly steadfast in its plan to allow Green and Porter to spread their wings without fear of consequences if they make poor decisions. Rookie forward/center Alperen Sengun, the No. 16 overall pick with a high-lottery grade from the Rockets after earning the Turkish League MVP at 18 years old last season, also has similar freedom in his role as a key reserve. (Guard Josh Christopher and forward Usman Garuba, the Rockets’ other teenage first-round picks, who are potential impact defenders that the team is trying to develop into quality role players, will likely get significant playing time this season in the G League, if not the NBA.)

“Coach Silas has a good demeanor — very steady, even keel. And I’m the one that’s an a–hole.”

Rockets assistant coach John Lucas

There is a consensus among Rockets’ leadership that it’s the right approach, even though it’s rough on a head coach who worked half of his life for this opportunity.

“Oh, it’s hard. It’s hard at times, but you know that that’s the growth that needs to happen,” Silas says. “You start in the dirt to get where you need to be. I was lucky to be around Luka [Doncic] and Steph [Curry] and LeBron [James] when they were rookies. Guys who are that creative, you can’t stifle that creative ability.

“There are going to be some crazy turnovers and some plays you wish they wouldn’t make, but that’s part of the growth.”

Silas stresses the importance of not sweating the game-to-game fluctuations of the young players’ development. He prefers to track improvement in samples of weeks and months.

That sort of patience is required from a head coach on a young team prioritizing development over results. Silas, described by Green as “laid-back” but equipped with a “switch that can flip to getting on you,” has a temperament suited for the assignment.

“Coach Silas has a good demeanor — very steady, even keel,” Lucas says, cracking a wry smile. “And I’m the one that’s an a–hole.”

For Lucas, it isn’t a glamorous job, and the rewards are often small; Houston is one of three NBA teams, along with the Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans, with only one win so far this season.

Asked if his work is fun, Lucas paused and thought for 15 seconds.

“It’s my love. It’s my love,” Lucas says. “I’ve struggled with accepting my love. It’s a funny thing. Nobody likes the gift you get at Christmas unless it’s the gift you wanted, but you learn to appreciate the gift in time. I got the right gift.”

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P.J. Dozier feared to have torn ACL in latest injury hit to Denver Nuggets, sources say



Denver Nuggets guard P.J. Dozier is feared to have suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, sources told ESPN.

Dozier crumbled to the floor on a collision at the rim during Tuesday night’s 119-100 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, and initial imaging suggested a possible end to Dozier’s season, sources told ESPN. Dozier will undergo further evaluation Wednesday, sources said.

Dozier’s loss is yet another blow to a Nuggets lineup beset with injuries. Denver is without Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (lower back) and hopes to have a return soon of MVP Nikola Jokic (wrist). The Nuggets have lost five straight games to drop to 9-9 on the season.

For the Nuggets to be able to apply for hardship waiver help on the roster, they will need to have four players who have missed three games and at least two weeks.

Dozier, 25, has averaged 5.4 points in 18.9 minutes per game this season.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks contributed to this report.

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The ever-tinkering Boston Celtics and the rocky road back to NBA Finals contention



THE BALL SWUNG from Jayson Tatum to Dennis Schroder to Al Horford to Marcus Smart, pinging around the perimeter in search of the best possible shot.

It was Nov. 19, and the Boston Celtics — already leading by 14 points with just over five minutes to go against LeBron James and the visiting Los Angeles Lakers — were about to put the finishing touches on an impressive win over their forever rivals.

Smart drove baseline, sucked in two defenders, jumped and fired a pass back to a wide-open Tatum in the left corner directly in front of the Lakers bench.

L.A. coach Frank Vogel, standing 5 feet from Tatum on the baseline, had already started walking toward the referee to call timeout before the dagger 3 fell through the net.

The play encapsulated how things have changed for Boston since November began with a fourth-quarter collapse on their home court against the Chicago Bulls, followed by Smart calling out the team’s two young stars, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and a players-only meeting the next day.

Since then, Boston has ripped off eight wins in its past 11 games entering Wednesday’s showdown with the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). Boston, 10-8, has posted the league’s best defense over that span and is pushing back into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

But Brooklyn’s arrival provides a reminder of where the Celtics stand in the East: a clear rung below the Nets and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, the conference’s two preseason favorites to reach the NBA Finals this season.

Boston spent several years living in that rarified air, both signing and trading for multiple All-Stars en route to a stretch of three conference finals appearances in four seasons. Ultimately, however, the push to hang Banner 18 from the rafters failed, despite the amount of capital — both in dollars and trade assets — the Celtics spent trying to do so.

Now, as Boston tries to retool its roster around its All-Star wings and return to championship contention, the Celtics will have to do so without the benefit of the draft picks and assets they had available to them over the past several seasons.

“I can’t believe this whole era for them hasn’t really worked,” one league executive said. “They’re stuck in neutral — and maybe going backwards.”

THE CELTICS LOST to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 East finals, but the future seemed much more certain then.

Brown had averaged 19.7 points for the series, while Tatum, in his rookie year, posted 17.9 points, including an iconic dunk over James in the fourth quarter of that Game 7.

The fact Boston did so with both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward watching in street clothes only fueled the belief the East would inevitably tilt back toward the Celtics’ favor — especially once James jumped to L.A. that offseason.

The Celtics entered the 2018-19 season with a roster featuring five either present or future All-Stars: Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward and Horford, along with starting-caliber players in Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris Sr. coming off the bench. Future unprotected first-round picks from non-playoff teams — via the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies — were either expected to net high draft picks or turn into trade options.

In the span of three years, the franchise underwent a steep and steady talent drain:

  • Irving, Horford and Morris left via free agency.

  • The picks from the Kings and Grizzlies turned into the 14th selection in consecutive seasons, netting Boston a pair of reserve swingmen in Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith.

  • Rozier was sent to the Charlotte Hornets in the sign-and-trade deal to land Kemba Walker, who was subsequently sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with a first-round pick for Horford.

  • The trade exception created when Hayward left became two months of Evan Fournier and then Josh Richardson.

  • Coach Brad Stevens left the sidelines to replace Danny Ainge as president of basketball operations.

The result? Boston now is short both on high-end talent and high-end assets to build around its young stars.

“Ultimately, you can’t keep losing — albeit flawed — All-Star talent like Kyrie, Gordon, Kemba, Horford,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “That adds up.”

Meanwhile, out of Boston’s past four drafts, only Robert Williams III appears to have the upside of a long-term starter. Four other first-round picks — Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Langford and Nesmith — have spent time sliding in and out of the rotation for Stevens and his replacement, coach Ime Udoka. Another high second-rounder, Carsen Edwards, quickly flamed out too.

Even the team’s two-way slots — which teams around the league have turned into high-end rotation players such as Alex Caruso, Duncan Robinson and Luguentz Dort — have been wasted. For the past two seasons, Boston used theirs on guard Tremont Waters and center Tacko Fall, neither of whom came close to becoming rotation players before being replaced this summer.

“The Celtics the last couple years have had a few really good players,” another executive said, “and too many roster spots dedicated to players they drafted who aren’t good enough.”

But through all the roster and front-office turnover, Boston still has Tatum and Brown.

Last season, seven teams had at least two All-Stars. Five of them were top-four playoff seeds in their respective conferences. The other two were the Lakers, who had James and Anthony Davis miss a combined 63 games, and Tatum, Brown and the Celtics, who finished .500 in the East and were dismissed in five games by Brooklyn in the first round.

“Jaylen and Jayson aren’t making anyone better,” a Western Conference scout said. “I put that on them.”

THE FRUSTRATION ON Smart’s face was clear through his face mask.

“I would just like to play basketball,” Smart said on Nov. 1, after the Celtics had entered the fourth quarter at TD Garden with a 14-point lead over the Bulls, only to lose by that same margin after being outscored 39-11 over the final 12 minutes.

“Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen, and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball …

“They’re still learning, and we’re proud of the progress they are making, but they are going to have to make another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team.”

Smart’s comments led to a players-only meeting in Orlando, Florida, the following day. And though Boston’s eight wins in its 11 games since then have calmed things down, these issues aren’t exactly a new story in Boston.

Smart shouted at teammates in the locker room after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble a little over a year ago. Hayward never quite regained his pre-injury form and couldn’t consistently stay healthy, ahead of leaving for Charlotte before last season. Irving’s final season in Boston was littered with issues on and off the court, including several testy exchanges between players through the media.

“They’ve looked like [players that] legitimately don’t enjoy each other’s success, and it’s been like that for years,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “The fact it’s still rearing its head is not surprising in that regard.”

Meanwhile, Smart’s critique of Tatum and Brown wasn’t without merit. From the moment training camp began in late September, the Celtics have preached the importance of the duo as playmakers. So far, it hasn’t happened.

Their assist numbers have dropped since last season — from 4.3 to 3.5 for Tatum and from 3.4 to 2.5 for Brown. Both players also have seen their potential assists drop, per Second Spectrum’s player tracking data, with Brown dropping from 5.4 to 4.7 and Tatum going from 8.1 to 7.6 per game. And while Brown has spent half the season sidelined with injuries, Tatum’s play has drawn scrutiny from opposing teams.

“I don’t think he cares about winning now, and if he does, it is on his terms. He doesn’t want to score 15 and win. He wants to score 39 and win.”

An Eastern Conference assistant coach, on Jayson Tatum

Tatum has taken the seventh-highest percentage of contested 3-pointers this season and ranks 29th in efficiency among 30 players with at least 75 isolation plays this season — while attempting the third most in the league — per Second Spectrum.

This all factors into the fifth-year wing’s career-worst shooting percentages from the field (41.2%) and 3-point range (33.3%) this season.

“Jayson Tatum is about Jayson Tatum,” an Eastern Conference assistant coach said. “I don’t think he cares about winning now, and if he does, it is on his terms.

“He doesn’t want to score 15 and win. He wants to score 39 and win.”

But Boston’s recent play has the Celtics encouraged about where things are headed — especially after Brown returned to the lineup on Monday against the Houston Rockets after missing eight games with a hamstring strain.

“We had some turmoil early on,” Smart said after the win over the Lakers. “That’s part of it, just trying to figure out a way to get each other going. And we’re doing it; it’s coming along. Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but we’re on the right path.”

IN THE SHORT TERM, that path is one that’s reliant on Boston having an elite defense, plus just enough offense. And lately, that’s worked to perfection.

Over the past three weeks, Boston has the NBA’s best defensive rating, as well as the third-best net rating — trailing the league’s two best teams so far, the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns.

“It’s a constant reminder to us that we can rely on that every night,” Udoka said of Boston’s defensive improvement. “Regardless of the offensive numbers, [the defense] gives us a chance every night.”

While swapping Walker for Horford cost Boston a first-round pick, it cleaned up its cap sheet for future seasons, and Horford has been far better than Walker so far this season while helping the Celtics balance out their roster.

That process also has been helped by Schroder, who fell into Boston’s lap on a one-year deal after his market dried up this summer, returning to the kind of form that made him a Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the Thunder two years ago.

Add it all up and it’s a formula that can allow Boston to reach its projected ceiling of being able to win a playoff series this season. Anything beyond that, though, will require something more.

One path is to acquire a third star. Virtually every champion in recent years — from the last Celtics title team to the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Warriors, Cavaliers and Bucks — has featured a trio of stars.

“They probably need another guy,” the Eastern Conference scout said. “I love Al Horford, but he’s getting older. And I love Smart. But once you get past Brown and Tatum — and especially past [Horford and Smart] — every guy is a question mark for me.

“They’re down to two legitimate stars, [and] you normally need three [to win].”

Finding that star is tricky. The recent movement of players gravitating toward signing extensions has taken free agency largely off the board when it comes to acquiring a star player. And while Boston has all of its draft picks moving forward, other teams — the Warriors and the New York Knicks are two examples — are better equipped to make a splash in the trade market.

Meanwhile, another path for Boston is to have Tatum and Brown continue growing their games. The Lakers won the 2020 NBA title around two stars in James and Davis. An even better comparison are the LA Clippers, who have attempted to do the same with a pair of elite wing players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Tatum and Brown, however, still have a ways to go before they can be seen in the same light as any of those four players.

“I would put it simply: Jayson and Jaylen’s ability to make other players better [is crucial],” a Western Conference scout said, when asked for what the key will be for Boston to return to championship contention. “If they can’t get that third guy, they have to make other players better, and they haven’t shown the ability to do that yet.”

Whichever path the Celtics take, returning to championship contention won’t be easy. In the meantime, they’re focused on trying to grow along the way.

“You expect to win every game you play,” Tatum said, “but that’s never the case. I think that’s just part of it. I think with a new coach and a new system, we’re just trying to figure it out.

“And I think as tough and as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I think it can help you in the long run, going through these bumps. It brings you more together and closer.”

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Luka Doncic returns with near triple-double as Dallas Mavericks fend off LA Clippers to win in OT



LOS ANGELES — As Luka Doncic walked past Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd in the Staples Center hallway late Tuesday night, the All-Star smiled through the fatigue of his 41 minutes logged in his first game back from knee and ankle injuries.

But the Mavericks star could not have felt any better because he was back in his element, hitting tough 3-point bombs, nearly putting up a triple-double and having some fun at the LA Clippers‘ expense. Returning from a three-game absence, Doncic had 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists as the Mavericks held off a furious comeback from the Clippers to take a 112-104 overtime win.

“I was tired,” Doncic said with a chuckle. “And overtime in the first game back, it was tough. But we got a win. That’s all that matters. I was happy.”

Doncic did not play in the Mavericks’ loss to the Clippers on Sunday and was a game-time decision Tuesday. But he said he was ready to go after his game-day afternoon nap.

It did not take long for his swagger to come to life, as Doncic received a technical foul late in the first quarter for talking trash to Terance Mann after scoring on the Clippers forward.

Doncic shot 9-for-21 from the field and 4-for-11 from 3-point range while seeing a steady diet of Clippers double-teams much of his night.

“I mean mentally, I was really happy to be back,” Doncic said. “I miss basketball. I know it’s only been three [games], but I will do everything possible to play the game. I felt great after I woke up from my nap. I was just ready to go.”

While the Mavericks got Doncic back, they lost another point guard, as Jalen Brunson was limited to 11 minutes after injuring his foot. A source said Brunson’s injury was not expected to be serious.

Like many of their playoff games during their consecutive first-round meetings the past two postseasons, the Clippers and Mavericks played a game that had emotion and a stirring comeback.

“When you beat somebody enough, you leave a bad taste in their mouth,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said when asked why the Mavericks and Clippers have such competitive games. “Now they want to play against you a lot.”

Morris, who returned after missing 15 games with a knee issue, said that while the games are hard-fought, the officials make sure to keep the peace after some playoff run-ins with Doncic.

“The refs are on my ass, so I can’t even talk to Luka,” Morris said. “I can’t even like breathe on him. So that kind of like, makes it a little bit now where it’s corny. But it’s still competition.”

Dallas, which won the first two games in Los Angeles before blowing a 3-2 lead in a seven-game loss to the Clippers last postseason, led 102-92 with 1:30 left in regulation Tuesday night. But the Clippers scored 11 of the final 12 points of the fourth quarter, and Paul George buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner to send the game to overtime.

“For a second, you were like, ‘Damn, we should have finished it right here,'” Dallas forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “But I think we are growing as a team mentally and kind of knew that, OK, if it is five more minutes, it’s five more minutes, and we will go out there and prove that we’re the superior team.”

Porzingis certainly has played better this season than he did against the Clippers last postseason. Porzingis, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in that first round, finished with 30 points and seven rebounds Tuesday night. He scored six of Dallas’ nine points in overtime.

“Honestly, it is just easy, easy opportunities because of Luka,” Porzingis said. “Luka is out there, he just makes the game so much easier for everybody else.”

Both Doncic and Porzingis were happy after their win. Doncic was back, and Porzingis feels he is free to play his game again.

“I am just feeling free, I would say, that is the main thing, just feeling free to play my game,” Porzingis said. “And my teammates are trusting [me], my coach trusts me, and I am out there having fun. That is the main thing. If you are not having fun, it is tough to play and give it your all. I feel like this year, we have that kind of environment and we are playing hard for each other and having fun.”

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