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Luka Doncic’s injury and impending suspension could derail the Dallas Mavericks’ playoff push

Don’t think Mavericks star Luka Doncic had any ulterior motives against the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night when he followed a physical drive to the basket and yelled at officials for calling a no-and-one foul.

He failed to pull his 15th technical foul of the season, which would see him evaded a one-game automatic suspension for the third straight season.

He doesn’t want to take the strain off his left thigh in that way.

But maybe, in one way or another, Doncic’s subconscious knew that the Mavericks were nearing the times without their 24-year franchise cornerstone.

Whether it’s because of the hamstring strain, which he said was “not good” after Wednesday’s third-quarter exit, his quick technical foul pace in disputes with officials, or both, Doncic will increasingly miss important games while the Mavericks try to evade their post -Trade deadline slides and snag a spot in next month’s playoffs.

“If I knew, I would do it every time,” Doncic said when asked how he would go about avoiding that fateful 16th technical foul in the Mavericks’ final 15 games of the regular season. “It’s tough for me, the passion to win games. But I definitely have to get better.

The Mavericks hope the same for his thigh.

The team flew home after their 113-106 loss in New Orleans to spend Thursday’s day off in Dallas. They will return to Memphis for Saturday’s competition on Friday afternoon.

Before they left the Pelicans’ Smoothie King Center, Mavericks medical staff scheduled Doncic for an MRI on his left thigh — the next step in examining the mysterious pain that has been ailing him for more than a week.

In seven games after the All-Star break, Doncic averaged 30.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game, but shot nearly three percentage points below his season averages (46.7% from the floor and 34.4% of three).

He said he’s played in pain since the Mavericks’ big collapse on Feb. 26 against the Lakers. In the last three games, Doncic has shot 8 of 23 (34.8%) against Phoenix, 10 of 23 (43.4%) against Utah, and 4 of 14 (28.6%) before leaving early against New Orleans.

“We can all see he’s not moving well,” said coach Jason Kidd, “so the shooting, the defending, it affects everything. He’s trying to fight his way through and help his teammates but he had to get out of there so hopefully it’s nothing serious. We have a few days here before we play Memphis so hopefully he’ll be back soon.”

As long as he avoids technical foul #16.

Before the thigh pain “really got worse” on Wednesday, Doncic drew a technical foul about seven minutes into the game. After driving through a pair of Pelicans defenders for a close-range basket, Doncic shouted, “Call a foul.”

“I didn’t say anything that early,” said Doncic. “I tried to get better. The last few games weren’t that bad. I don’t know.”

NBA rules dictate that a player is automatically suspended for a game for drawing 16 technical fouls in a regular season, and also serves a game suspension for every two technicals after the #16. The tech tally begins in the playoffs with a one-game suspension after No. 7.

“We all know he knows,” Kidd said. “He needs to get better, but we all need to get better. We all complain about in-game calls. Again, referees can see some, miss some. It’s just part of the game.”

Last year, Doncic drew 17 techs before the playoffs, but the NBA rescinded two, including one in the penultimate game, allowing him to avoid the first suspension of his career.

With 15 technical errors in 57 games this season, Doncic is averaging one in 3.8 games.

That’s on track to earn a suspension next week.

Last season, Doncic openly silenced his arguments and demonstrative interactions with officials to receive just three technicians in 21 games after the All-Star break in mid-February – and turned to Kidd as a channel for communicating with umpires and songs hummed in his head as a distraction.

He confirmed on Wednesday that the Serbian pop music method is no longer part of his repertoire.

And it is shown.

Doncic has drawn four technical fouls in four of the Mavericks’ first seven games since returning from the All-Star break on Feb. 23, including for excessive complaints on Feb. 28 against the Indiana Pacers and for a heated confrontation with Devin Booker on March 5th the Phoenix Suns.

“Just let things go, some of the pieces. Just move on to the next one,” Kidd said of his advice to Doncic. “It’s just basketball. Understanding the situation he’s in individually with the 15 Ts so he knows he has one left and again that’s just part of the game. If you look at the other guys on the floor, Kai, those guys are vets, so they have to help him understand when it’s time to talk to officers and when it’s not.”

Perhaps the only positive aspect of Doncic’s hamstring injury, at least for his wallet?

Doncic has not pulled a technical foul, which carries a per-call fine, in the 10 games he has missed this season due to injury or a break.

But after the Mavericks started Wednesday at No. 5 in the super-tight Western Conference playoff standings before falling to No. 8 following the Pelicans’ loss, the prospect of eventually being without their all-round superstar remains a major concern for their postseason hopes.

For more coverage of Mavericks in the Dallas Morning News, click here.

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