The game Wednesday night had been over for about an hour, but the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room was still filled with reporters awaiting a player who was in the spotlight Friday night.
Kristaps Porzingis has the bona fides to cut the group sessions short. He’s a former All-Star. He is a star.
Plus, he was needed on the court to greet soldiers who had watched the Mavs’ 107-106 victory from courtside, a game in which Porzingis had struggled.
So what did Porzingis do? He laid bare his basketball soul.
The big man isn’t happy with how he is playing with his new team after a 20-month layoff to give him a new knee. He had his worst game of the season in the narrow win over the Orlando Magic.
On Thursday, though, Porzingis was in a better mood. He wasn’t “awful,” as he said Wednesday, and needs to temper his expectations.
His first chance to do so was against his old team. The New York Knicks, who traded him away last season, made their only visit of the season Friday to American Airlines Center.
“I just want to play well and win games and show what I know I’m capable of,” Porzingis said. “I’m not there yet, and that’s very frustrating. The only thing I can do is look forward now. I want to figure this thing out.”
So does coach Rick Carlisle, who said after the Magic win that he needs to find ways to get Porzingis better shots after he went only 4 for 14. He is averaging 19 points a game, which is second on the team behind Luka Doncic (26.7).
Carlisle didn’t want to get into specifics and cautioned that Porzingis will be a work in progress indefinitely after going nearly two years without playing because of a torn ACL in his left knee in February 2018.
The uptempo, free-flowing system the Mavs run on offense is contributing to Porzingis’ difficulties. The knee isn’t an issue, but the Mavs don’t run many set plays, whereas Porzingis’ national teams in Latvia and the Knicks did.
His adjustment will go smoother if he is “trusting the pass as a team and trusting space on the floor,” said Carlisle, who is still experimenting only eight games into the season and expects that some tweaks will result in easier shots for Porzingis.
The key for everyone, though, is patience. Porzingis recognized that in the aftermath of Wednesday’s game and after practice Thursday after watching video and hashing out the game.
“I have to give myself time and make it simple for myself,” he said. “I’ve had some decent moments already, but it’s a mix of a lot of things that are new for me and that are there for me to figure out.
“I have to get the feel back. I have to get it back. How many times did they hit the ball out of my hands? I have to be aware of those situations, and the spots that I’m getting to to get my shots are not the usual spots that I was getting used to when I played in New York. Now it’s been 20 months since I played basketball the last time. It’s in my hands to figure it out.”
The good thing is that the Mavs are winning with only one of their two star players clicking regularly. They were 5-2 entering Friday, a nice cushion ahead of a three-game road trip.
Porzingis is doing playing well defensively and rebounding well. He isn’t the lump he felt like he was Wednesday, and has been getting better.
It’s just going to take time for him to get his game where he thinks it needs to be.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever done this,” Carlisle said. “He came back from after 20 months and then was put in the starting lineup. He was a 20-point scorer after six games. That’s pretty remarkable.
“When this is your first go-round with that kind of alignment, it takes some getting used to, but he’s getting there. He causes a lot of problems when he’s on the floor.”