DALLAS — The Mavericks fear that starting center Dwight Powell suffered a season-ending torn right Achilles tendon early in the first quarter of Tuesday night’s 110-107 loss to the LA Clippers.
“It’s a somber night with Dwight’s situation,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s going to have an MRI tomorrow. Right Achilles injury feared to be severe, but we won’t know for sure until the diagnostic tests are done. It’s a real tough one.”
Powell was injured when he attempted to drive with 3 minutes, 1 second remaining in the first quarter. His right leg gave out on him when he attempted to push off, causing Powell to collapse to the floor, and he was in agony before being helped off the floor.
Powell, 28, has developed into a critical role player since arriving in Dallas as part of the Rajon Rondo trade in 2015. He is averaging 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in his first season as a full-time starter.
His impact goes beyond basic statistics. Powell is considered a critical part of the Mavs’ culture, described by Carlisle as “one of the soldiers of the franchise.” He’s also an excellent complement to franchise cornerstones Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Powell is one of the NBA’s most efficient pick-and-roll finishers and typically defends power forwards, allowing Porzingis to play to his strengths as a rim protector.
“He means a lot, off the court and on the court,” said Doncic, who had 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the loss. “He gave us a lot. He’s a great guy. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s going to come back strong, though, for sure.”
Powell, who signed a three-year, $33 million contract extension with the Mavs in July, was expected to play a major role in Team Canada’s attempt to qualify for the Olympics this summer.
Carlisle referenced J.J. Barea, the Mavs’ 14-year veteran reserve point guard, as evidence of a player with remarkable work ethic and mental toughness who came back strong from a torn Achilles tendon. Barea, 35, ruptured his right Achilles tendon in January last year and was ready to begin this season, when he has averaged 9.2 points and 3.3 assists in 15.6 minutes per game.
“Nobody better and mentally tougher to come back from this than him,” Barea told ESPN of Powell. “Nobody has ever and will ever work as hard as he is going to do.”
Powell’s injury occurred early in Porzingis’ return after he missed the past 10 games because of right knee soreness.
Porzingis said he felt good physically, but he shot the ball poorly against the Clippers. He had 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting (1-of-8 from 3-point range) in 27 minutes.
“I think that if I played just a little bit better, we’d have won the game,” said Porzingis, who had nine rebounds and a blocked shot. “So this loss is on me. That’s how I feel. I just have to play better for my team, for my guys, for my coaches. I know it’s my first game back and all that, but I always have high expectations for myself. I’m just disappointed that I wasn’t able to shoot the ball better.”
With Powell out, Carlisle opted to shift Porzingis to center and play a small lineup to start the second half, replacing the 6-foot-10 Powell with the 5-foot-10 Barea.
“The bind you get in is with the rebounding, and that was obvious in the second half,” said Carlisle, whose other options are to start Maxi Kleber or Boban Marjanovic at center. “We were really up against it on the boards. You take a little bit here and you give a little bit there. We’ve just got to find a sweet spot with the guys that we have and find a balance. In terms of the lineup and everything else, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to keep on the table as possibilities.”