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“Everybody Relaxed a Little Bit Because…”: Luka Doncic Talks About Kyrie Irving’s Return From Injury, 37-Point Loss to Jazz

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The Dallas Mavericks had a disastrous start to 2024 as they suffered a humiliating 127-90 loss to the Utah Jazz on January 1. After the practice session today, superstar guard Luka Doncic spoke about the game and alluded that Kyrie Irving‘s return played a role in the team’s 37-point loss. The veteran guard returned to the lineup after a 12-game absence due to a heel contusion.

Speaking about Irving’s return and the loss to the Jazz, Doncic said,

“I mean, great [to have him back]. Obviously, we wanted to win, but the first game back is always tough. I think everybody relaxed a little bit because we had Kai on the court.”

The Mavericks offense certainly took a day off on Irving’s first game since suffering the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers in early December. They were held to only 90 points, their second-lowest tally of the season. The Mavericks also failed to hit triple digits for only the third time this season.

Irving has played in two of three games where Dallas did not score at least 100 points before suffering his heel injury. Doncic and Irving were absent in the Mavericks’ 122-96 to the Houston Rockets on December 22.

The 2014 All-Star MVP also alluded that his return may have hampered the team. Following the loss to the Jazz, the veteran guard said,

“I was excited to get back out there. It’s been a long time coming for the last few weeks, just trying to ease my way back into the flow of things, the rhythm of our team.”

The Mavericks’ decision to field Irving on their final away game before a seven-game homestand was surprising. Moreover, they’ll chalk this off as a blip and focus on making the most of seven straight home games.

Kyrie Irving’s return will boost Luka Doncic and the Mavericks

The Mavericks’ 2023-24 season got off to a promising start. They were 12-8 when Irving suffered a potentially severe injury in their win over the Trail Blazers. The guard hit the floor after getting fouled during a layup attempt.

However, teammate Dwight Powell jumped to grab a rebound and landed on Irving’s right leg. Luckily, the veteran did not suffer a season-ending injury but had to be sidelined for almost a month.

With Irving sidelined, the onus was on Doncic to keep the Mavericks afloat. He played 41 minutes in the win over the Trail Blazers but it increased to more than 43 minutes in each of Dallas’ next two games. The superstar guard played in ten of the 12 games Irving missed.

He played over 43 minutes in four of ten games and no fewer than 36 in the other six. Doncic played over 43 minutes only once in the Mavericks’ first 20 games. Even though Doncic is currently fifth in the NBA MVP ladder, increased game-time might put an extra burden on the Slovenian guard.

The Mavericks went 6-6 in Irving’s absence, primarily due to Doncic’s heavy lifting. With Irving back and seven straight home games on the horizon, Dallas will look to improve on its 19-15 record and climb a few places in the Western Conference standings. They are currently seventh but are only two games behind the Los Angeles Clippers, who are currently fourth.

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