DALLAS — Superstar guard Luka Doncic participated fully in the Dallas Mavericks’ practice Wednesday for the first time since straining his left calf, fueling cautious optimism that he could be cleared to play as soon as Game 3 on Thursday against the Utah Jazz.
Doncic, who suffered the injury in the April 10 regular-season finale, has been gradually ramping up basketball activities and made explosive moves off of his left leg for the first time during the recovery process in an individual workout Tuesday. He said he was “feeling good” when he played some 1-on-1 on Wednesday, but the Mavs did not do any live scrimmaging during the practice.
“We shouldn’t rush anything, but step by step, I think I’m doing a lot,” Doncic said. “I’m getting ready.”
Doncic and Mavs coach Jason Kidd said a decision would be made on Doncic’s Game 3 status on Thursday. Dallas player and health performance director Casey Smith will have significant input in the decision, which will be made in large part based on whether Doncic is at risk of aggravating the injury, which likely would force him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
“If there’s going to be risk, I don’t think I’m going to play,” Doncic said. “But like I say, yesterday and today we did some good things. If it’s not risk, I don’t want to play limited minutes because I’ll be nervous. I want to be out there the most time as possible, but like I say, I’m going to see how I feel and we’re going to talk to the medical staff.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be 100 percent. I think that’s tough right now. But if I’m ready and there’s no risk of [aggravating the] injury, I’ll be out there.”
The Western Conference first-round series is tied as it shifts to Salt Lake City. The Mavs evened the series with a 110-104 win in Monday’s Game 2, keyed by guard Jalen Brunson’s career-best 41-point performance. Doncic was engaged an spectator in the first two games, spending most of the games standing in front of the Mavs’ bench and cheering enthusiastically.
“Playoff basketball is so fun, especially playing at home with the crowd,” Doncic said. “Sitting out, watching the game, it’s way more stressful than playing the game. I don’t know how, but it is. I just miss basketball. I know it’s only been two games, but I miss it so much.”
The average absence due to calf strains for NBA players this season has been 16 days, according to information compiled by InStreetClothes.com. Mavs reserve guard Frank Ntilikina returned from a calf strain in 12 days earlier this season. Game 3 will be 11 days after Doncic was injured.
“He’s going in the right direction, and again, I know it sounds like a broken record, but we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then hopefully it’s a green light,” Kidd said. “If not, we’re prepared to go without him.”