DALLAS — All-Star guard Luka Doncic declared that he would not consider being shut down for the season as long as the Dallas Mavericks have postseason hopes, no matter how long the odds.
“I’m playing tomorrow,” Doncic said after Tuesday’s practice. “When there’s still a chance, I’m gonna play. So that’s not gonna happen yet.”
Doncic (left thigh injury recovery) and fellow All-Star guard Kyrie Irving (right foot injury recovery) are officially listed as probable for Wednesday’s home game against the Sacramento Kings. After losing seven of their past eight games, the 37-42 Mavs are one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Western Conference’s final play-in spot.
The Thunder own the tiebreaker over the Mavs, meaning that Dallas must win two more games than Oklahoma City in the final week of the season to extend its season.
“There’s little chance,” Doncic said. “We all know that, but like I said, as long as there’s a chance, I’ll play.”
The Mavs, who currently have the 10th-best lottery odds, owe the New York Knicks a top-10-protected pick as the final piece of the Kristaps Porzingis trade. Team sources told ESPN on Monday that there had been internal discussions about shutting down Doncic and Irving for the final three games, a scenario that would have prioritized protecting lottery position over chasing the slim chance of qualifying for the play-in tournament.
Doncic said he was not included in those discussions.
“I think they knew that I wouldn’t want to do it,” said Doncic, who is averaging 32.8 points per game, two-tenths of a point behind Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid in the race for the scoring title. “They know me like that, so I think it was not a big discussion.”
Doncic described this as “a very disappointing season” for the Mavs, who advanced to the West finals a year ago. In an attempt to contend this season, Dallas made a blockbuster trade for Irving before the deadline, giving up two starters (Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie) and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick despite no guarantee that Irving would re-sign with the Mavs as a free agent this summer.
That deal has not paid dividends, as the Mavs are 4-11 with both Doncic and Irving in the lineup. The Mavs are 7-15 overall since Irving joined the team, falling from fourth place in the West standings following wins in his first two games to 11th.
“I think you don’t see that chemistry we had before — I mean, especially last year,” Doncic said. “I think that chemistry was at the top, everybody. But chemistry builds not just not right away. It’s a long process.”
The Mavs have allowed 118.3 points per 100 possessions over those 22 games since Irving arrived, which ranks 25th in the league during that span.
“I don’t think the offense is a problem, and I always said this,” Doncic said. “It’s our defensive end. I think anybody can score on us. Whoever it is, anybody can score on us.”
Doncic took accountability for much of the Mavs’ defensive inadequacy. He said he has struggled with fatigue after having little time off over the past three years, playing for the Mavs and the Slovenian national team, and carrying a historically heavy offensive workload early in the season in the wake of Jalen Brunson‘s departure in free agency.
“But that’s not an excuse,” Doncic said. “I’m still young, age-wise, but it’s a lot of basketball. But I gotta be way better.
“I’m the leader of this team. The one to blame is me.”