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DALLAS (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis stopped short of saying he was ready to return from a right knee issue that has sidelined him for 10 games because the Dallas Mavericks forward was a late scratch the last time he thought he was close.
The 7-foot-3 Latvian also says he has recovered from an illness that helped extend the longer-than-expected absence, another example of the caution Dallas has shown since trading for Porzingis when he was still recovering from a major left knee injury.
Porzingis went through practice with no limitations Sunday, making him optimistic about returning Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. He thought he would play at Sacramento last Wednesday, but soreness in the right knee resurfaced.
“We’ll probably go that way of being cautious again, not to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to play,’ and all of a sudden something happens,” Porzingis said. “The way I’m feeling, I don’t see why there should be any hurdles. But you never know.”
The Mavericks acquired Porzingis from the New York Knicks almost a year ago with the idea of pairing him with 20-year-old phenom and fellow European Luka Doncic.
The 24-year-old Porzingis could have played late last season, but Dallas decided on extra time to recover from the torn ligament in his left knee, an injury sustained almost two years ago in what ended up being his final game with the Knicks.
With Doncic and Porzingis paired this season, the Mavericks have exceeded expectations and are in position to end a three-year playoff absence, the franchise's longest in 20 years.
Coach Rick Carlisle said before the start of training camp that Porzingis would get periodic rest during the season, likely on the second night of back-to-backs.
The Mavericks did that with the first back-to-back, but the 2018 All-Star played both ends of the next three sets.
Porzingis was coming off the last of those three back-to-backs when he said he felt a “pretty sharp pinching sensation” in his right knee before a game at Oklahoma City on Dec. 31.
After missing seven games, Porzingis was cleared to play against the Kings but told the medical staff something didn't feel right when he was warming up.
Owner Mark Cuban said the issue has been irritation of the medial collateral ligament, which he said was common in NBA players.
“Just play it safe,” Cuban said before the 10th game Porzingis missed, Saturday against Portland. “It’s just irritation. We’re pushing the workouts. And that’s why you push the workouts, to see if he gets irritation. He’s all good.”
Before getting hurt with the Knicks, Porzingis' longest absence was the last seven games of his rookie year. Even though he's now been out longer with another knee issue, Porzingis said he doesn't let the injury history bother him.
“Most important that it feels stable,” he said. “If it feels stable then why would I be afraid? If it feels unstable, I think that’s when maybe those things can start to creep up in your mind. I feel good. I feel stable.”
The Mavericks will have a shorter workout Monday during a rare three-day break between home games. Then Porzingis will hope the Sacramento experience doesn't repeat itself.
“We don’t want any player playing unless they’re healthy,” Carlisle said. “When this thing came up, it’s been addressed at all levels of rehab. You work back to a point where it’s time to get back on the floor and play a game. He’s very close.”
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