Mavericks Dodge Health Scare After Bulls Center’s COVID-19 Test

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (center) tested positive for COVID-19 after playing against the Mavericks on Wednesday

Getty Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (center) tested positive for COVID-19 after playing against the Mavericks on Wednesday

Phew.

On Thursday, the Chicago Bulls announced that center Nikola Vucevic would miss Friday’s game against the Warriors because he’d tested positive for COVID-19, and while concern around the NBA for Vucevic was foremost, some worry about the last team the Bulls played—the Mavericks—emerged as well. Dallas played against Vucevic and the Bulls on Wednesday, a game which saw Vucevic on the floor for 32 minutes of action.

NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson pointed out that Vucevic and the Bulls played against the Sixers last week, on November 3 and 6, and that, on November 7, Sixers center Joel Embiid tested positive for COVID. All of which, naturally, had the Mavericks concerned about their own group and whether they could have been infected by Vucevic.

But, coach Jason Kidd reported on Friday, all of the Mavs were tested and came back negative. “the way,” wrote team reporter Eddie Sefko, “even though Luka Doncic was hugging with Nicola Vucevic after Wednesday’s game in Chicago, and Vucevic tested positive on Thursday, the Mavericks are expected to be all available tonight.”

Bullet dodged.


Last Year’s Mavericks Were Sacked by COVID-19 Early

The sigh of relief is especially poignant for the Mavericks, who were hard-hit by COVID-19 infections and exposure last season. Dallas lost two starters and its sixth man—Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson—to quarantine just eight games into the season, when the trio had to remain behind in Colorado after testing positive for COVID-19 during a trip to Denver.

The Mavs won their first two games, but then that trio was joined by Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell in the COVID-19 protocols and the depleted team sunk badly. Dallas lost nine of 11 games and went to 8-13. The Mavs rallied to finish 42-30, but the hole that the team fell into during its COVID-19 battle damaged its playoff positioning and paved the way to the Mavs’ first-round playoff ouster.

At the time, team owner Mark Cuban explained to the radio station 105.7 in Dallas that the team had tried to stick by the league’s COVID-19 rules, and maybe had done so all too well:

It’s hard mentally and emotionally for that matter to go through all these things — and that’s led to a lot of weird sets of circumstances with games. … One of the reasons we had so many cases wasn’t because we weren’t paying attention and following the rules. It was the exact opposite. We have such a close team that guys were sitting in a room playing video games together. And a couple of other guys gave Dwight and Maxi hugs coming off the court, which led to … because our guys are so close, these things happened.


Mavericks’ Starting Five Has Grown Frustrating

But that won’t be an issue this time around. Instead, the Mavericks were able to put out the usual starting five that Kidd has gone with when the team has been healthy this season—Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt, Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis at the forward spots and Powell at center.

That has caused some consternation among Mavs fans, because the fivesome has been especially bad together here in the early season. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Doncic-Hardaway-Finney-Smith-Porzingis-Powell quintet as a net rating of minus-17.7.

Powell is most often fingered as the culprit for the unit’s woes, but the Mavs don’t have an adequate replacement. Kidd appears set against playing Porzingis at center, and the starters would unlikely be much better if any of Boban Marjanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein or Moses Brown were dropped into the middle.

So the lineup remains the same. At least this time, the Mavericks have the option of keeping things consistent—early in last year, COVID-19 left them no choice but to make major changes.

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