Dallas Mavericks 7-foot-3 power forward Kristaps Porzingis — nicknamed the “Unicorn” — has been more like a ghost of late after missing the past three games due to back tightness.
He figures to be questionable again when the Mavs host the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
Even so, the Mavs are off to a solid start, especially at home, where they are 3-0, and that has a lot to do with their superstar, Luka Doncic. The 22-year-old point forward leads Dallas in scoring (22.5), rebounds (8.5) and assists (7.5).
Porzingis, who missed 29 of Dallas’ 72 games last season due to his back issue, is off to a slow start even in the three games he has played. He is averaging 12.7 points — six below his career average — and is shooting 30.2 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent on 3-pointers. His career averages are 44 percent on field goals and 36 percent on threes.
“We want him to be right,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said of Porzingis. “If he’s not right, he can’t play.
“It’s a team game. Next guy’s up.”
Miami has its own injury issue as center and Olympic gold medalist Bam Adebayo missed the Heat’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday due to a bruised left knee.
Still, the Heat have five wins in their first six games, looking like perhaps the best team in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can score the ball,” said Heat point forward Jimmy Butler, who leads the team with 25.3 points per game. “But we’re also picking it up on the defensive end.”
Heat reserve guard Tyler Herro is second on the team in scoring (22.0), and Adebayo is third (20.6). Adebayo also leads in rebounds (14.0), Kyle Lowry is first in assists (7.2), and Butler tops the Heat in steals (2.8).
In addition, Heat shooting guard Duncan Robinson might have regained his confidence with a 5-for-10 performance on 3-pointers against Memphis. Before that, he was shooting just under 28 percent on 3-pointers this season.
One thing to watch for on Tuesday is a potential slow Dallas start. The Mavs have been outscored by 22 points in the first quarter this season.
Another issue for the Mavs is rebounding, and it also appears that back injuries are multiplying, and here’s why: The Mavs defeated the Sacramento Kings 105-99 on Sunday but got outrebounded 56-45.
Replacing Porzingis, Maxi Kleber made his first start of the season. Kleber, who is 6-10, had seven points and five rebounds in seven minutes, but he strained his back in the first quarter and did not return.
Going forward, Kidd said the Mavs might have to play “small” until they are healthy up front. For size, the Mavs have 6-10 Dwight Powell, who started on Sunday and grabbed eight rebounds, and 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein, who had six boards off the bench.
“We don’t want to play like that all the time,” Kidd said of the smaller lineups he used. “But we understand injuries happen. Everyone is going to have to help on our interior rebounding.”