The watch for Luka Doncic’s playoff return has taken its most promising turn yet.
The Mavericks’ All-Star participated in practice Wednesday before the team’s mid-afternoon flight to Salt Lake City for the third game of their first-round series, Thursday night against the Utah Jazz.
Then Doncic spoke with reporters for the first time since he strained his left calf April 10, late in the third quarter of the regular-season finale.
Uncertainty still remains after the conversation.
On their official injury report, the Mavericks upgraded Doncic from “doubtful” to “questionable” to play Game 3 as they continue to evaluate his rehab progress and risk for re-injury. He said “I don’t know if I’m going to be 100%” during the series.
But while describing how he’s approaching healing what experts called one of the most finicky, complex injuries in basketball, Doncic made clear he’s hopeful and eager to return soon to play the part of the season he loves most.
“It’s the toughest thing ever,” Doncic said of missing the Mavericks’ 1-1 start to the series. “The playoff basketball is so fun, playing home, especially home with the crowd. But you know just sitting out, watching the games, it’s way more stressful than playing the game. I don’t know how, but it is, and I just miss basketball. I know it’s only been two games, but I miss it so much. ”
Doncic increased his involvement in practice Wednesday.
Luka Doncic is shooting with Mavs as they finish practice with group 3-point competitions.
He looks more active and agile than in some of his recent shooting regimens. pic.twitter.com/RnVwkbbBCP
– Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) April 20, 2022
During the portion of the session open to reporters, Doncic teamed with close friend Boban Marjanovic and two-way players Theo Pinson and Moses Wright to compete in a 3-point shooting competition against three other groups of teammates.
He hustled between spots around the arc and hoisted some half-court shots, backpedaling and moving with more agility and speed than he’d shown in recent individual shooting regimens.
“We did a little bit of one-on-one,” Doncic said, “and I was actually feeling good.”
Doncic and coach Jason Kidd didn’t offer specifics about whether he’s tested explosive, game-like, change-of-direction movements or whether Doncic would need to run in five-on-five scrimmages before returning to games.
But Kidd said his superstar took part in all of the team’s on-court work Wednesday – at Doncic’s own self-deprecating pace.
“Luke is doing Luke,” Kidd quipped. “I mean, his sprint is different than anyone’s in the league. That’s the truth. I can’t put a speed on it or a grade, a 40-time. ”
Kidd continued with a realistic assessment: “He’s doing everything. He’s going in the right direction, and again, I know it sounds like a broken record, but we’ll see how he feels [Thursday] and then hopefully it’s a green light. If not, we’re prepared to go without him. ”
What a change from this time last week.
In the first few days of rehab, Doncic wore a walking boot to take pressure off his calf and “I couldn’t even shoot.”
“I was nervous,” Doncic said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He received massages.
Used blood-flow restriction techniques with a torquinete system periodically reducing circulation to his calf while he performed physical therapy exercises.
Sat in the cold tub.
Sat in Normatec compression leg boots.
Spent each morning with the medical staff at the practice facility.
Returned home in the afternoons to do pool workouts in his backyard.
“I’m doing a lot of treatment, man,” Doncic said. “I’m tired of just laying down and doing treatment.”
Doncic has improved to the point “it’s a little bit, not really that painful” and conversations about his potential return timeline have become more nuanced.
Sports medicine experts told The Dallas Morning News that minor, Grade 1 calf strains often take seven to 10 days to heal, but the Mavericks haven’t revealed the severity of Doncic’s injury.
Injury analyst Jeff Stotts, who tracks NBA injury data for InStreetClothes, said NBA players who suffered calf strains this season missed an average of 16 days. Reserve guard Frank Ntilikina, the only other Maverick to strain his calf this season, missed four games over 12 days in November.
Doncic said his stepback 3-point shooting motion “is not a problem” for his calf, but pushing off his left leg while driving to the basket or abruptly changing directions to pass, score or defend – integral facets of his crafty style —might still be.
Director of player health and personnel Casey Smith, whom Doncic called “my boss,” and the 23-year-old All-Star himself will make the final call – for Game 3 Thursday, Game 4 Saturday and beyond.
“If there’s going to be risk, I don’t think I’m going to play,” Doncic said. But like I said, today and yesterday, we did some good things. If it’s not risk, I don’t want to play limited minutes. I’d be nervous. I want to be out there the most time as possible. ”
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