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Dallas Mavericks have ‘increasing optimism’ Luka Doncic plays in Game 4

Matt Johnson

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic could return to the court for Game 4 on Saturday against the Utah Jazz, with optimism reportedly increasing for the superstar’s return.

Doncic suffered a left calf strain on April 10, an injury that immediately sidelined him for the game. Dallas soon realized it would be without its MVP candidate for a portion of the first round series against Utah, putting it in an early hole.

After dropping Game 1 in a 99-93 final, the Mavericks responded in Game 2. Still without Doncic, impending NBA free agent Jalen Brunson stepped up with 41 points in a 110-104 victory at home. While Doncic continued to make progress, he wasn’t available for Game 3. Without him, Dallas stunned the Jazz 126-118 in Utah for a 2-1 series advantage.

With more time to rest, Doncic is on the verge of a return. After participating in 5-on-5 work, the Mavericks are increasingly optimistic that their superstar will be available Saturday for Game 4 against the Jazz.

It puts Utah in a dangerous position, already trailing in a series when their opponent played without their best player. Even if Doncic is limited upon his return, getting him back on the court adds further momentum for Dallas.

Impact of Luka Doncic’s return on NBA playoffs

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted, Doncic will be on a minutes restriction in his first game action since the calf injury. Dallas knows that while it might be able to survive a Round 1 matchup without Doncic, it faces a swift playoff exit in the next round if he suffers a setback.

The Mavericks could play it safe with Doncic and rest him for Game 4, given coach Jason Kidd called his point guard a game-time decision. However, the opportunity to steal both road games and take a 3-1 series lead will likely influence the decision.

On a minutes restriction, Doncic can still be effective. Speed isn’t as much an element of his game, reducing the risk of aggravating the calf strain slightly. Another motivation to play Doncic, he’s averaged 33.5 points ppg in the playoffs and shot 49.4% from the field.

Just having him back on the court makes the Mavericks’ lineup more dangerous, even if it’s in a smaller minute allocation. It also makes it very likely that Dallas wins the series against the Jazz. If Doncic continues to make progress, this will be a dangerous team moving forward.