OKLAHOMA CITY – It wasn’t long after arriving in Oklahoma City on Saturday did center JaVale McGee find out the good news.
That’s when Casey Smith, the Dallas Mavericks’ head athletic trainer, informed him that he had been cleared to play in Sunday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The first thing that came to McGee’s mind after he discovered he was going to play in his first game of the season for the Mavs?
"At least I had all night to think about it and prepare,’’ he said.
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McGee’s mental and physically preparation paid off handsomely as he responded with eight points, six rebounds and a whole lot of activity in 11 minutes during Sunday’s 117-114 loss to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Those individual stats from McGee represent a positive sign for the Mavs, who are in desperate need of the rim protection talents which McGee brings to the court.
More than anything, the Mavs were just happy to see McGee on the floor as he’s overcoming the left tibial stress fracture which forced him to miss the entire training camp and first 13 games of the season.
"I thought he played great,’’ point guard Deron Williams said. "He came out and gave us a big spark and it was good to see him back on the court, most importantly.
"It’s still going to take some time for him to get back in shape. He’s missed a lot of games the last couple of years, so it’s just about getting that feel back and getting use to playing basketball again.’’
Multiple injuries limited McGee to just 28 games over the previous two seasons. But the Mavs like the overall impact he can have on a game – when he’s healthy.
The Mavs even looked the other way when noticing the team’s minus-16 point total when McGee was in the game. They know they’re better off with him than without him.
"He was active,’’ shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. "We all know he’s a rim protector.
"It’s easy when you miss a lot of games to be winded and out of shape and be in bad positions defensively. But for the most part he played his minutes without fouling, he was able to roll (to the basket) and provide us with a spark.’’
McGee (7-foot, 270) hit four of his five shots, missed his two free throw attempts, and turned the ball over twice.
"They were just getting (the ball) to me in places that I’ve been practicing to shoot the ball, so of course that’s dunks and layups,’’ McGee said. "And of course the little floater, we’ve been working on that.
"So it just came natural when they passed it to me in those positions.’’
But McGee didn’t enter the game thinking about the type of impression he could have on the offensive end of the court.
"I was really just worried about my wind if anything,’’ he said. "I wasn’t even worried about scoring.
"I was worried about making sure all the work I’ve been doing is helping and getting me in shape.’’
During one sequence, McGee was whistled for offensive goal-tending when he dunked the ball while it was still above the rim. Then, he was whistled for defensive goal-tending.
Still, just his presence in the middle speaks volumes.
"When I’m in (the game) the bigs tend to stay closer to me rather than (slide to the) help-side as much,’’ McGee said. "And we need a little bit more help-side (defense) with the guards getting beat and getting to the rim.
"It’ll be a lot more floaters (for the opponents) than layups.’’
Some of the rust in McGee’s game, the Mavs acknowledge, will disappear in time. They just have to be patient.
"We’re at a point where he’s really not going to make any further improvement unless he gets in some games,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "He’s feeling good, so we’ll work him in gradually.
"He did some good things, but it helps to have another big guy.’’
Forward Dirk Nowitzki certainly knows the Mavs need all the big guys they can muster. And McGee can be a force in the middle for the Mavs.
"Defensively, he’s got to be active for us, he’s got to be in the games, he’s got to rebound for us,’’ Nowitzki said. I’m sure the more he plays the better shape he’ll get and he’ll get more sharper.
"But I really like what he brings to the table.’’
Starting center Zaza Pachulia is appreciative of the workload McGee carried against the Thunder.
"It’s good to see him out there,’’ said Pachulia, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "He gave us energy from screen-and-rolling, from a couple of rebounds.
"It’s his first game, fresh legs. Hopefully he can build on this and he can get better and get in shape and get a feel of the game.’’
So far, so good for McGee, from a health standpoint.
"It feels real good,’’ McGee said. "Everything held up good.
"It’s definitely a blessing just being out here period. I’m just grateful to be out here.’’
Dwain Price can be heard every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on dfwiradio.com