The matchup with the Clippers, which are teeming with quality perimeter defenders to hound Doncic, will be the Mavericks’ first playoff series without Nowitzki since 1990. As Dallas has quickly learned since swinging a draft-day deal with Atlanta to acquire the Slovene star’s rights in June 2018, Doncic has a penchant for speeding up timetables.
Even with the future two-time M.V.P. Steve Nash at his side, Nowitzki did not reach the playoffs until his third N.B.A. season. The same held true for LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But Doncic got there in his second year, and in his first season alongside Porzingis, whom Dallas acquired in a trade with the Knicks on Jan. 31, 2019, that continues to generate passionate debate.
Doncic confirming his franchise-player after just a few months is what persuaded the Mavericks to pursue Porzingis so hard before the 2019 trading deadline. Porzingis wound up delaying his Mavericks debut until this season, extending his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2018 to 20 months, but he has returned to an All-Star level in 2020 after an uneven start. In 21 games since Jan. 31, buoyed by a move to center after Dwight Powell’s season-ending Achilles’ injury, Porzingis is averaging 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. In six of those games, he amassed at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, after he did so only three times in his first 222 N.B.A. games.
Cue the regret at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks have overhauled their front office in recent months. Steve Mills, the former team president, was reassigned and replaced by the player agent Leon Rose, at least partly because it became obvious the Mills-led front office did not get nearly enough for Porzingis. The inconsistent Dennis Smith Jr., and two future first-round picks represent the Knicks’ primary return from the deal.
“They’re a two-star team now,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of the Mavericks.
Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 Latvian, celebrated his 25th birthday in the bubble on Aug. 2, but knows, for all the praise he has been receiving from Rivers and others, that he is about to face a higher level of scrutiny under the playoff microscope.
“Stats and all that are great, but when people look back, they want to see who was a winner, who won it all and who achieved great things as a team,” Porzingis said. “The main goal has to be team success.”