The known: Luka Doncic has a left calf strain.
The unknown: Umm ... nearly everything else.
After missing Game 1 of the first-round series between the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, Doncic is being listed as “doubtful” to play in Game 2.
“Yesterday was another good day, and today he’s back on the court,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said Sunday. “So that’s a plus and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
How serious is the All-NBA superstar’s injury?
Ahead of Game 1, there were tea leaves to read heading into this series, if you were so inclined. Many of them point in different directions (tea leaf reading is more of an art than a science anyway, right?). But let’s lay them all out with a little help from Intermountain Healthcare orthopedic surgeon and injury specialist Dr. Mike Holmstrom.
Tea leaf No. 1: Doncic’s injury appeared to happen as he burst toward the 3-point line in the third quarter Sunday evening. Doncic was able to walk, albeit limping, off the floor. That’s a strong indication that Doncic’s calf isn’t fully torn, which would be a Grade 3 injury causing him to miss multiple months.
Instead, we’re stuck determining whether Doncic’s calf strain is a Grade 1 or Grade 2 injury — of course, there are different levels of severity within those classifications, as well. Ultimately, it’s conceivable, albeit accelerated, that Doncic could return from a minor Grade 1 strain in time for Saturday’s game. A more severe injury could cost him more of or even the entire series.
Tea leaf No. 2: When Doncic went down with the injury, he grabbed his calf closer to the knee than the ankle, indicating that was likely the source of pain.
That may well be good news for Doncic, as the calf is more muscular around the top of the leg than the bottom — meaning more blood flow closer to the injury. Strains nearer to the ankle or Achilles tendon sometimes take longer to heal.
Tea leaf No. 3: On Monday, Doncic was spotted in a walking boot outside of a Dallas-area hospital.
“Typically, you put a walking boot on it as much to rest it as anything, and let it calm down quickly,” Holmstrom said. “Because every time you walk and take a step, you use your calf to lift your body up and the walking boot keeps it at 90 degrees.”
Tea leaf No. 4: Doncic didn’t participate in the Mavericks’ practice Tuesday. Nor was he on the court, in the weight room, or in the training room during the portion of the practice that was open to Mavericks beat reporters.
However, Doncic did ride an exercise bike while the team participated in practice, according to the Dallas Morning News.
In my experience with the Jazz, players soon to return are often engaging in shooting practice or movement exercises at practice. Dallas may operate differently, though.
Tea leaf No. 5: After practice, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd was circumspect about Doncic’s availability.
“He’s in great spirits today. We’ll see how his body feels tomorrow, but I think we’ll prepare with him, and then we’ll also prepare without him — just like any injury that we’ve had all season. But for him, it’s just see how his body feels each day. We all hope he’s able to go in Game 1, but if he’s not, we’ll prepare to move forward.”
“If (Luka) can go and put on his shoes, then he’s going to go. If he can’t, we’re not going to put him in a situation to jeopardize it and make things worse.”
From a Jazz point of view, they’re preparing both ways as well. The Jazz feel that the Mavericks will likely run a similar style of play with or without Doncic, instead replacing him with the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson.
“Whether he’s out there or not, we’ve got to come out with the same focus,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said.
Tea leaf No. 6: Mavericks players who interacted with Doncic, though, were more publicly optimistic about his return.
“Seems solid to me,” Spencer Dinwiddie told reporters. “I mean, he don’t seem like a guy that’s going to miss too much time, if any.”
“I’m very optimistic,” Jalen Brunson said when reporters asked whether Doncic will play Game 1. “I mean, I hope for the best. That’s our organization right there. When you think of ‘Dallas Mavericks,’ you think of him. Obviously I’m very optimistic, hoping for the best and we want him out there.”
For Jazz fans, Holmstrom suggests watching Luka move on the court. “If I were watching him play or even just warm up and I didn’t know anything about it, what I would look for is an asymmetry with gait, meaning he has a little hitch in his step as he’s walking.”
Kidd said he anticipated giving reporters a daily update on Doncic’s status as well. NBA rules say that by Friday afternoon, the Mavericks will have to declare whether Doncic is playing, probable, questionable, doubtful, or out for the contest.