This past Sunday, all was set for an absolutely glorious local sports day. Beautiful spring weather, coals glowing on the grill, plenty of suds on ice, and an unbroken 10-hour slate of DFW-centric sports viewing that (along with said plenty o’ suds) promised to carry me gently off to sleepytime before another brutal workweek ahead.
For most of the day, whatever usually miserly gods they’ve put in charge of my happiness seemed to be cooperating. The Rangers overcame a four-run first inning by the Blue Jays to win 12-6, avoiding a sweep in the season’s opening series. Some of that Rangers offensive prowess seemed to rub off on their crosstown buddies as the Stars managed to outscore the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4. If I’d have wanted to, I could have also bounced channels to take in some of North Texas native Scottie Scheffler winning his first PGA major tournament on the hallowed grounds of Augusta at the Masters.
However, all the above feel-goody local sports heroism early in the day combined to simply be the setup before the fall. The evening’s main event was the Mavericks hosting the Spurs in the last game of the regular season, one last aperitif before what looked like it could be the Mavs’ potential best playoff run in a decade. With the 130-120 victory, that game should have been the cap on a genuinely great sports day, but as has been their prerogative for most of my life, those sadistic sports gods saw fit to steal my brief joy and replace it with the cold familiarity of darkness and despair.
Two minutes into the third quarter of the game, MVP-in-all-but-name point guard Luka Dončić collided with Spurs big man Zach Collins while leaping for a pass. Dončić came down awkwardly after the crash and immediately began wincing in pain. It took no time before the Slovenian superstar was limping to the locker room, appearing to carry all the Mavs’ playoff hopes off the court with him.
An MRI on Monday confirmed Mavericks fans’ initial fears. Luka has suffered a left calf strain, the severity of which is, as of this writing, unknown. Calf strains are a tricky injury with a very ambiguous timetable for return. Educated guesses floating around the interwebs and wholly un-factchecked by me put the range from as little as a few days to as much as several months. To put it in some concrete and admittedly more familiar perspective for me (i.e., football-related), Cowboys QB Dak Prescott had a similar injury from landing strangely during a touchdown celebration this past season. It took nearly three weeks before he could even return as a “full-go” participant in practice. Similarly, wide receiver Michael Gallup also strained his calf during the first game of the season. It was more than two months before he saw game action again. The short-burst mechanics of football playing versus the constant planting and breaking and the leverage required for basketball make me think this type of injury is worse for b-ballers than NFL jocks. In other words, there’s a pretty big likelihood that Luka misses the entire first round of the playoffs. Without him, it’s hard to imagine the Mavericks making it more than five or six games, much less into Round 2.
Suddenly, shockingly, in an ultimately meaningless game, all the optimism surrounding this Mavericks team which has been steadily building over the last few months vanished. There has been so much to get excited about for the postseason. The stabilizing of head coach Jason Kidd’s defensive philosophy, the rise of Jalen Brunson, Dwight Powell, and Dorian Finney-Smith into actual reliable starters, the weight of human contract anvil and apparent total team vibe killer Kristaps Porzingis being removed, the surprising reinvention of Spencer Dinwiddie (an almost afterthought tossed into the deal to get out from under KP at the deadline) — all of it had the team white hot as the regular season wrapped. Hell, they’d gone a staggering 18-5 record since the All-Star break! Of course, despite all those other contributing factors, it’s been Luka who has been the main driving force. He’s been the unquestioned best player in the league since the February ice storms. Now, it just feels like none of that matters.
So here I am again. Back in the cold confines of sports doomsdayism. As the Cowboys are my favorite professional sports team, this is familiar territory. Homey even. As the clock ticks off until Game 1 against the Utah Jazz Saturday, all we can do is cry, gnash our teeth, rend our garments, and lament what a cruel world the sports gods have designed for us here in North Texas. All that and hope that Luka Magic™ includes a Wolverine-like healing factor.