The rainbows and sunshine emanating inside the AAC faded away the moment Luka Doncic’s now injured right ankle landed awkwardly on top of Kendrick Nunn’s foot.
The fans, coaches, and players alike all watched in silence as the face of their franchise hobbled off the floor.
While there is never an ideal time for a star player to get hurt, considering the stretch the Mavs are staring down, this was especially bad timing.
It was a fairly graphic rolling of the ankle for Luka. The X-rays came back negative, but his inability to put weight on it or walk off on his own was particularly concerning.
“He has a right ankle sprain,” Coach Carlisle said after the game in a chippy exchange with reporters. “We hope it’s not serious, but that’s all we have for you right now.”
It seems like a safe bet he will miss at least a few games given that diagnosis. A run where the Mavs will play at Milwaukee, against a very well rested Celtics team, the Sixers on the road, and the Raptors on the road.
Counting Miami tonight, that would be five straight games against the five best teams in the Eastern Conference. That’s brutal regardless, but they might have to face that gauntlet short their MVP candidate.
It’s unfair, but both life and sport rarely are.
After all, this was shaping up to be a dream season for the team and city. Coming into tonight’s game, they were the owners of the third best record in the Western Conference. A feat not even the most optimistic followers of the team saw coming.
Sprinkle in a couple signatures wins and Luka’s meteoric rise, and folks around town were talking Western Conference Finals and possibly championship.
All of those things are certainly still possible, albeit highly unlikely. They always were to an extent, even with a healthy Luka.
The teams performance after he exited should certainly give fans some hope. Trailing by as many as 24, they fought and clawed their way back into it against a superior team. If not for a couple of unfortunate hiccups down the stretch, they would have pulled it off.
“I think we did a great job,” JJ Barea said of the team’s response to Luka’s injury. “Everybody who came in stepped up and we put forth a great effort.”
Moral victories don’t count in the Win-Loss column however. And it’s hard to imagine they could rediscover the magic they captured during their comeback tonight without Luka.
With the Mavs, Nuggets, and Rockets (3-5 in the West) all separated by 1.5 games, every outing is vital. It’s not atypical for Western Conference teams to have little margin for error. It’s why good health is so critical.
Dealing now with their first bit of bad injury luck, their response is paramount. Whichever way that it goes could greatly alter the direction of their season.
According to Tim Hardaway Jr., the approach to it all stays the same.
“Next man up.”
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