Luka Doncic hypes Kyrie Irving pairing, remains out Friday

SACRAMENTO -- Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic said he loves and respects "my guys" Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie, but he didn't hesitate to sign off on trading them for Kyrie Irving when team management presented the possibility to him.

"We'll obviously miss them here, but Kyrie's Kyrie, man," Doncic said after Friday's shootaround at the Golden 1 Center in his first extended comments since the Mavs made the blockbuster trade. "NBA champion. Probably the best ball handler ever in the game. Amazing player, and he's going to be fun to play with."

Doncic will have to wait at least one more day to make his first appearance alongside Irving in the Dallas backcourt. There was optimism that Doncic would return for Friday night's game against the Sacramento Kings after being sidelined for a week because of a right heel contusion, but he was ruled out after the morning shootaround.

Irving, playing in his second game since the trade, had 25 points and 10 assists as the Mavs beat the Kings 122-114 for their third straight win.

It was the fourth straight game he missed. Doncic experienced pain in the heel after pickup games with Mavs reserves and staffers Thursday afternoon as part of the process in his return to play.

"Hopefully tomorrow I can be back," Doncic said, referring to Saturday's game, again against the Kings in Sacramento. "Still painful. But it's way better every day."

Doncic and Irving, both All-Star starters, will instantly form what is arguably the NBA's best offensive tandem. Doncic leads the league in scoring with 33.4 points per game, while Irving ranks 11th with 27.0 points per game.

Doncic, one of the NBA's most ball-dominant players, acknowledged that he will have to adapt his game to maximize the Mavs' success with him playing alongside another perennial All-Star guard. While coach Jason Kidd has made it clear that the Mavs remain "Luka's team," Doncic anticipates playing off the ball more than he ever has, occasionally screening for Irving in pick-and-rolls.

"I'm excited to see what that looks like with Luka out there," Irving said after Friday night's win. "I'm constantly out on those breaks, so as much as we can make the game easier for each other and keep the pace going, that would be a benefit for us. But I'm looking forward to seeing what that looks like with Luka out there and me running the wing, just shooters getting to their spots, and then if we don't have anything, just settling in the half court, we got some great options out there."

Doncic also said he expects that Dallas, which ranks second to last in pace this season, will look to run much more often with Irving, as well as with speedy wing Josh Green moving into the starting lineup.

"I never played with a guy like Kyrie, so it's obviously going to be a work in progress," said Doncic, who also ranks seventh in the league in assists with 8.2 per game. "But I think it's going to be fine. We both can play on the ball. For me, I think it's going to be a learning process, for sure. Outside of my first season, I didn't play off the ball. But with a guy like him it's going to be different."

The Mavs believe that Doncic will benefit greatly from the addition of Irving. Doncic won't have to carry such a heavy offensive burden, which Dallas anticipates will keep him fresher to finish games and prevent him from being worn down before the playoffs. Teams will also have to reconsider the common strategy of throwing an extra defender at Doncic to make him give up the ball.

"We match up against any team," Mavs general manager Nico Harrison said. "A lot of teams try to blitz Luka, take the ball out of his hands. Well, you can do that if you want, but we've got another guy that's pretty good, so I just think it gives us so many options."

The Mavs, of course, weren't the only team in the Western Conference to trade for a superstar. The Phoenix Suns traded for Kevin Durant, Irving's former Brooklyn Nets teammate, a few days after Dallas made its blockbuster deal.

"Big move," Doncic said. "Probably the favorite in the West, right?"

Asked how he likes the Mavs' odds of winning the West, Doncic said: "I never do these rankings and that stuff. That's for the other people. I believe in my team, that's it."