Pessimism significant around return of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic for Game 3 vs. Utah Jazz, sources

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite progress in the rehabilitation of a left calf strain, there’s still significant pessimism surrounding the possibility of Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic playing in Game 3 vs. Utah on Thursday night, sources told ESPN.

Doncic missed Games 1 and 2 with the calf injury, but has gradually increased his workload on the practice floor in recent days.

“We’ll see how he feels at game time,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said after shootaround, adding that he expected Doncic to go through his normal pregame warm-up routine.

Doncic stayed at Vivint Arena after most of his teammates left Thursday morning to go through an extensive on-court workout under the guidance of Mavs player health and performance director Casey Smith. The workout included running, ballhandling and shooting.

“Feeling great,” Doncic told ESPN as he was leaving the arena.

The Western Conference first-round series is tied as it shifts to Salt Lake City.

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 is a player that has so much ahead of him in his future, so him being smart about it is key,” said Mavs guard Jalen Brunson, whose career-high 41 points keyed the Game 2 win. “I think it just shows the trust that he has in us as well. He trusts us. He’s just making the best decision for himself. As teammates, we respect that.”

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 was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, fueling cautious optimism that his return was on the horizon.

“If there’s going to be risk, I don’t think I’m going to play,” Doncic said Wednesday. “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.”

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