SACRAMENTO, Calif. (TNS) — Word came about 35 minutes before Wednesday night’s tipoff: Kristaps Porzingis had been scratched from the starting lineup due to right knee soreness.


Again.


So when the Dallas Mavericks took the Golden 1 Center court and ultimately beat the Sacramento Kings, 127-123, behind Luka Doncic’s 20th career triple-double, they played for the ninth straight game without prized 7-foot-3 New York Knicks acquisition and five-year $158 million contract-extension signee Porzingis.


With this latest development, what began 16 days earlier as a minor concern, then lingered as a puzzling continuation, has morphed into a genuine worry.


Even though the Mavericks aren’t publicly expressing this concern, at least not after a game in which Doncic registered 25 points, a career-high 17 assists and 15 rebounds, their fans certainly expressed alarm on social media — while Knicks fans unleashed a collective I-told-you-so.


In five NBA seasons, Porzingis, 24, has yet to play more than 72 games. He has played in 217 of a possible 369 games.


By missing his 10th game of this season, as Dallas on Wednesday reached the season’s midway point, Porzingis assured that he again will not crack the 72-game mark.


Heat scorch Spurs


MIAMI (TNS) — With Jimmy Butler off, the Miami Heat needed someone else to step forward on the offensive end Wednesday night.


Kendrick Nunn proved up to the challenge.


With the Heat lethargic at times, coach Erik Spoelstra needed someone to leap into action.


Who better than Derrick Jones Jr.?


And so, in the wake of uneven play that included a pair of weekend losses to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, the Heat did what they almost always do this season at AmericanAirlines Arena.


Make it 18-1 home with the 106-100 victory over the San Antonio Spurs that lifted the Heat to 28-12.


On a night Butler was limited to 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting, Nunn stepped forward with 33 on 13-of-18 shooting. When there was a miss, Jones was there with 12 rebounds, eclipsing his previous season high of seven, two off his career high of 14.


There also were 17 points from Goran Dragic and a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double from Bam Adebayo to help offset 30 points from the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan.


A Butler 3-pointer with 5:24 to play lifted the Heat to an 88-79 lead. It was Butler’s first 3-point conversion in 10 appearances, dating to Dec. 20 against the Knicks. He had missed his previous seven attempts before the conversion.


The Heat held on from there, unlike their fourth-quarter collapses in Brooklyn and New York.


Nunn was up to 20 points at the intermission on 8-of-8 shooting. He was unable, however, to help produce more than a 51-51 halftime tie, with DeRozan with 14 points at the break, on 6-of-6 shooting.


At one point in the third period, Nunn and DeRozan both stood 9 of 10 from the field.


Nunn was formally presented his December Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award at halftime, when he stood 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.


The Heat were without rookie guard Tyler Herro due to a knee bruise sustained during Tuesday’s practice.


“If you leave him to his own devices, he’s young enough, he’ll go,” Spoelstra said. “So we wanted to make sure we wanted to do what’s best for him. It’s not a major thing right now. It’s just a knee contusion in the one area.”


The injury happened during a full-pad practice.


“Again, I don’t know how this happens,” Spoelstra said. “Often, we have these guys padded up like Robo Cops and then they get these bruises on the one-centimeter area where they’re not padded.”


———


Laker comeback falls short


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (TNS) — Word came about 35 minutes before Wednesday night’s tipoff: Kristaps Porzingis had been scratched from the starting lineup due to right knee soreness.


Again.


So when the Dallas Mavericks took the Golden 1 Center court and ultimately beat the Sacramento Kings, 127-123, behind Luka Doncic’s 20th career triple-double, they played for the ninth straight game without prized 7-foot-3 New York Knicks acquisition and five-year $158 million contract-extension signee Porzingis.


With this latest development, what began 16 days earlier as a minor concern, then lingered as a puzzling continuation, has morphed into a genuine worry.


Even though the Mavericks aren’t publicly expressing this concern, at least not after a game in which Doncic registered 25 points, a career-high 17 assists and 15 rebounds, their fans certainly expressed alarm on social media — while Knicks fans unleashed a collective I-told-you-so.


“We’ll see,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Hopefully he feels better tomorrow and we’ll just continue to move forward and hope he continues to feel better. He was doing real well on a day-to-day basis. It just didn’t feel quite right before the game.


“So we’re not messing with it.”


After Tuesday’s victory over Golden State in San Francisco, Porzingis said the soreness had gone away and had not returned during or after ramped-up activity.


But when he took the court to warm up for Wednesday’s game, pain and discomfort returned. He said he informed Mavericks director of player health and performance Casey Smith, who made the decision to scratch Porzingis from the lineup.


“Just a little bit of pain in certain movements,” Porzingis said. “Didn’t feel that good out there. Casey made the decision to take some more time.


“It felt great yesterday. I had a solid workout, 25 or 30 minutes. Felt good. Didn’t feel any sharp pain or anything like that. And today I kind of felt it a little bit when I started warming up. I felt it more and more and I told the medical staff.”


In five NBA seasons, Porzingis, 24, has yet to play more than 72 games. He has played in 217 of a possible 369 games.


By missing his 10th game of this season, as Dallas on Wednesday reached the season’s midway point, Porzingis assured that he again will not crack the 72-game mark.


It appears the Mavericks can only hope at this point that he plays somewhere in the vicinity of the 66 games he played in his last full season, 2016-17, before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee on Jan. 18, 2018. By the time Porzingis returned to the court at the start of this season, it had been 20 months since his last regular-season game.


About 90 minutes before Wednesday’s tipoff, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle had confirmed Porzingis’ expected availability, “assuming everything goes well (during warmups).”


Obviously, it did not go as well as hoped. Porzingis spent about 15 minutes stretching with his physiotherapist, Manolo Valdivieso, but once Porzingis took the court and began shooting, it was apparent that he was moving gingerly.


“I was so hyped today and yesterday,” Porzingis said. “I wanted to play so bad. It is what it is. These things happen and we’ve got to think of the long term. And I’ll be fine.”


Asked whether he is concerned about the fact that the pain went away only to return, he said: “I don’t really know what it is, so I don’t know. I put all my trust in the medical staff when I started feeling my sensation. Whenever they tell me I’m good to go, I’ll be ready to go.”


Carlisle’s pregame assessment of what the Mavericks had missed during Porzingis’ absence spoke to the Latvia native’s long-term importance to the franchise.


“You lose a 7-3 guy that can rebound and protect the rim like that, it’s going to make your rim protection and rebounding more challenging,” Carlisle said. “It’s a big loss when a guy like that is out.


“Our guys have done a good job of playing without him, but he’s a difference-maker. And when you don’t have a guy like that, you’re going to feel the difference.”


Including Wednesday’s game, the Mavericks have gone 5-4 during Porzingis’ latest absence. Much earlier this season, he had missed the Nov. 9 game at Memphis (a Mavericks victory) out of precaution, because it was the second game of a back-to-back.


———


Bulls beat Wizards


CHICAGO (TNS) — Daniel Gafford stood under the basket, clutching his right hand as he bent over in pain. Not even 90 seconds had passed since the start of Wednesday night’s game against the Wizards when Gafford intercepted a pass from Ian Mahinmi that nearly bent the rookie’s hand all the way backward. He called timeout and immediately sprinted off the court toward the locker room.


Gafford, who has been starting at center in place of Wendell Carter Jr., was diagnosed with a dislocated right thumb with a cut and is expected to be sidelined for two to four weeks, the team announced. It deals another blow to the Bulls frontcourt depth, already thin with Carter out for at least a month with a right ankle sprain.


The Bulls withstood Gafford’s absence and came away with a 115-106 victory, led by 30 points from Zach LaVine, who has scored at least 25 in five straight games. It was the 13th game this season LaVine has scored at least 30 points.


Gafford had been exceeding expectations as a second-round draft pick from Arkansas. He started his fourth straight game Wednesday since Carter’s injury and was averaging 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds since moving into the lineup. He’s averaging 1.4 blocked shots in 31 games for the season.


Without Gafford and Carter, Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio are the only big men on the Bulls’ roster besides Lauri Markkanen (13 points, eight rebounds), and they made up for most of the minutes in this game without Gafford. The Bulls have 15 players on their roster, which limits their options to add a player in Gafford’s absence.


Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 23 points.