After sinking a midrange fadeaway jumper with a minute left in overtime to increase the Dallas Mavericks‘ lead to eight points, Kristaps Porzingis capped off another sterling performance this season in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night. Porzingis finished the contest with 30 points and seven rebounds, making it the seventh straight game he’s totaled 20-plus points this season, the longest such streak of his career.
If you take out the 12-point performance he put up against the New Orleans Pelicans back in early November, where the Mavericks didn’t need much from the 7-footer in the 16-point win, he’s put up 20 or more points in eight of the nine games he played since returning from a five-game absence due to back tightness. It’s a welcome sight to see for the Mavericks, who have waited for this type of consistent production from the Latvian big man since trading for him in January 2019.
Although he hasn’t averaged under 20 points in any season he’s been with Dallas, this year he just looks different, especially over the last seven games. Some of that can be attributed to Porzingis having the first fully healthy offseason since joining the Mavericks, after he rehabbed from a torn ACL before suiting up for Dallas. Then tore his meniscus in the playoffs down in the Orlando bubble prior to the start of last season’s condensed schedule.
Against the Clippers, you could see how having a healthy offseason is positively impacting him, especially in his mobility and explosiveness. Just look at how agile he is on this drive to the rim:
He’s also been far more aggressive on the offensive glass, as he’s averaging nearly three offensive boards a game, a career high for him. It’s resulted in putbacks like this:
… and second-chance opportunities like this one:
He’s taking advantage of mismatches far more, which was on full display against the Clippers as he cleared shots over the likes of Luka Kennard and Eric Bledsoe on several occasions. Porzingis attributes his early-season success to having more fun playing the game this year than in the past.
“I’m just feeling free to play my game,” Porzingis said after Dallas’ win over the Clippers. “My teammates are trusting me. My coaches are trusting me and I’m out there just having fun. If you’re not having fun then it’s tough to play and give your all, but I feel like this year we have that kind of environment. We’re just playing hard for each other and having fun out there.”
That might be a thinly-veiled jab at former coach Rick Carlisle, who stepped down over the summer in an offseason filled with reported front-office drama for the Mavericks. But when you watch Porzingis play this season, he’s not forcing as many shots on offense, and while his defense isn’t incredibly noteworthy in its entirety, he doesn’t look as stiff or like he’s stuck in sand as he’s looked in the past.
There’s also the continued improvement of his partnership with Luka Doncic, who returned Tuesday night after a three-game absence with an ankle and knee sprain. Porzingis and Doncic continued to play well off each other against the Clippers, something that was beginning to peak prior to Doncic’s injury.
“Honestly it’s just easy, easy opportunities because of Luka,” Porzingis said. “He just makes the game so much easier for everybody else. They have to double-team him, and we just make the next play and that’s it.”
It’s not that Doncic and Porzingis haven’t meshed well together prior to this season. But between K.P.’s injuries and inconsistency when he’s on the floor, it’s been difficult to see the full capability of this partnership before. Although they’ve only played nine games together this season, there’s been some notable growth in their ability to find each other in the right spots. Like this absolute dime Porzingis delivers to a cutting Doncic to dizzy the Denver Nuggets‘ defense for a basket that was counted as goaltending by Aaron Gordon:
Or this pick-and-roll action between Doncic and Porzingis, which has always proven to be incredibly successful for the Mavericks in the past:
It’s a small sample size to work with, but if Porzingis continues to play at this level for Dallas, then those trade rumors team owner Mark Cuban denied recently will start to disappear. Furthermore, if K.P. maintains this type of production, then Dallas may have a better shot of getting out of the first round of the playoffs this season.