Dallas’ Kristaps Porzingis upbeat despite being sidelined until January

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As much as Kristaps Porzingis wants to join the Dallas Mavericks for a pair of games in the national spotlight to start the season, Luka Doncic‘s European sidekick apparently will have to wait until the new year coming off knee surgery.

Porzingis didn’t have the procedure to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee until October, more than a month after Dallas’ first playoff appearance in four years ended in the first round inside the NBA bubble in Florida.

The wait was a medical thing, with doctors not certain surgery would be necessary for the 7-foot-3 Latvian who missed 20 months after tearing the ACL in his left knee in what ended up being his final game for the New York Knicks in early 2018.

The delayed surgery and the NBA’s decision to start in late December apparently will sideline Porzingis the opener Dec. 23 at Phoenix, and for the marquee game on Christmas Day at the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Coach Rick Carlisle said the 2018 All-Star’s season debut will be in January.

“I’m trying to recover that time so I can start the season as early as I can,” Porzingis said Thursday, two days after the starting of training camp. “I’m just focused on each day, making progress, getting the knee better, healthier, the leg stronger.”

Porzingis injured the right knee in his first career playoff game but played in the next two before tightness led the medical staff to keep him out of the remaining three games of a six-game loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

For a player who sat out the entire 2018-19 season while being traded to Dallas by the Knicks in a blockbuster deal before the deadline that season, missing playoff games wasn’t easy.

The recovery, however, has been a “piece of cake” compared to the ACL rehab of 2018-19, which included the Mavericks deciding not to play Porzingis the final two-plus months when he could have been cleared medically to return. Dallas was out of playoff contention by the time Porzingis arrived in a trade.

“I always say the ACL rehab felt like walking in the desert and you don’t see no end,” the 25-year-old said. “This one is just progress daily, weekly, and I can see by each day that I’m getting closer to being back on the court.”

Carlisle said the on-court work is light at the moment, while adding that the medical staff is having to hold an eager Porzingis back.

“His rehab has gone without issue. He’s on schedule,” Carlisle said. “When we get to January, we can give you a better update on where things are.”

Porzingis saw head athletic trainer Casey Smith wander by during his first virtual meeting with reporters of training camp, just as he was asked if it was easy to be patient this time after the ordeal with his left knee, or if he was nagging the medical staff just the same.

“Actually Casey just walked by. I’ll have a talk with him later,” Porzingis said with a mischievous grin. “Obviously, knowing that I’m really close or I’m getting pretty close calms you down a little bit.

“But also, in the ACL, you have to be smart. You know if you’re not ready, then it’s not smart to go out there and try to play when you’re not ready. It’s going to be the same case here.”

Porzingis finished his first playoff experience with 34 points and 13 rebounds in a 130-122 loss to the Clippers, then watched Doncic’s stunning 3-pointer at the buzzer to win Game 4, followed by a 43-point loss and another 14-point defeat that eliminated Dallas.

Now that Porzingis has had surgery on both knees, and missed more time with another knee issue in his first season with the Mavericks, he isn’t dwelling on whether he might be injury-prone. Porzingis leans on his belief that the two more serious injuries involved contact plays.

“After the ACL, I had no doubt in my mind that I was ready to go,” he said. “It was just a matter of finding a rhythm, finding all the little movements, the little details. Now the same thing. I’m already on the court putting in work, moving around, seeing how I feel. And that’s it. Once I’m healthy, once I’m on the court, there’s zero doubt in my mind and I just go 100% every time.”

Doncic’s 30, Mavericks’ 17-0 run lift them past Knicks at MSG

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NEW YORK (AP) — Luka Doncic had a game-high 30 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in 28 points against his former team, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the New York Knicks 121-100 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 17 points for Dallas, which outscored New York 69-41 in the second half for just its second win seven games.

“I think it’s great that everyone’s in the locker room smiling,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody saw the ball go in, we shared the ball, we played the right way. … We’re a team that lives or dies by the 3, and today we made them.”

Forward Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points, and Immanuel Quickly chipped in 23. Leading scorer Jalen Brunson had 13 points playing against Dallas for the first time since he signed with the Knicks on July 12, but New York fell for the sixth time in its past eight games.

“To be honest, not fun,” Brunson said when asked what it was like playing against his former team. “They played great tonight. You got to give them credit. No matter who is on the floor, my approach stays the same. But to see them after the game and shake their hands, that was pretty cool.”

Hardaway exacted revenge against his former team, with whom he played 254 games over parts of four seasons. Hardaway had 17 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers, during a 27-6 run. He credited familiarity in New York – and Dallas’ previous game in Detroit – as keys to his third straight 20-plus point game.

“This road trip, when you have family and friends in both cities, it lightens you and brings some positive vibes and some positive energy,” Hardaway said. “To come here, to Detroit and to New York, both places where I used to play college and professionally, was a great atmosphere. I was comfortable, and my teammates (were) keeping me positive.”

Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had just 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he took over in the third, scoring 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dallas outscored New York 41-15 in the third quarter, turning a tight game into a rout.

“The first half I wasn’t really participating,” Doncic said. “It was a challenge to come out of the locker room with more energy.”

The Knicks shot 55% in the first half, including 63% from the field in the first quarter. Randle had 14 of his 21 first-half points in the first quarter, including seven on a 9-0 run that gave New York an early 14-5 advantage.

The Knicks led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and cut New York’s lead to seven, 59-52, at halftime.

“The start of the game, I thought we were pretty good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We built the 15-point lead, then we sort of lost traction mid-second quarter.”

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

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It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.