DALLAS — The right ankle that Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic sprained two weeks earlier felt fine during his return. His lungs were another story.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty tired going to the end of the game,” Doncic said after the Mavs’ 102-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night. “It’s different. It’s difficult when you’re out four or five games. You’ve got to catch up. It’s going to get better.”
Doncic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in the victory, a relatively mundane performance by the ridiculously high standards the 20-year-old has set this season. He was 9-of-23 from the floor and 1-of-6 from 3-point range in what Mavs coach Rick Carlisle described as “predictably kind of an uneven game.”
Doncic suffered the sprain when he stepped on Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn’s foot while driving to the basket in the opening minutes of the Mavs’ Dec. 14 loss. He missed the next four games, traveling with the team on a road trip to Philadelphia and Toronto as he ramped up the workout facet of the recovery process, and he was a full participant in the Mavs’ Christmas Eve practice.
There were signs of rust for Doncic early in the game. He committed all three of his turnovers and did not have an assist during the first quarter, but he also scored 10 points in the frame.
Doncic was dominant during the Mavs’ 14-7 run to end the first half, accounting for all of Dallas’ points by hitting his only 3 of the night and dishing out five assists.
“He had a few challenges early with rhythm and just kind of getting his legs under him,” Carlisle said. “Then he got into a great flow as the game went on. Any time you’re out for that amount of time and you’ve been a regular player, playing 33, 34 minutes, when you first come back it’s going to hit you pretty quick with wind. But as the game went on, he felt really good.”
It was Doncic’s league-leading 23rd game this season with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, four more than LeBron James. Doncic saw a streak of 20 such games — longer than anyone other than Oscar Robertson has had in NBA history — snapped due to the injury.
“He did his thing again tonight,” Mavs power forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “It’s good to have him back.”
While this wasn’t Doncic’s best performance, it did prompt Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to compare him to an all-time great.
“I hate to say this: He’s not Magic Johnson, but it’s Magic Johnson-like in the sense that he sees the floor in that same way,” said Popovich, who watched Doncic record a 42-point triple-double the previous time the Spurs faced the Mavs. “He’s got a real intuitive sense, and you can’t teach that. He’s just got it and he’s great at it. I’m not trying to put the Magic Johnson pressure on him — he’s not ready for that yet — but he’s doing a hell of a job.”
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