Mavs may have to face East beasts minus injured star Doncic

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Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (77) reacts after injuring himself against the Miami Heat during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Saturday, Dec 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

DALLAS, TX – The timing couldn't be much worse for the Dallas Mavericks to be without star guard Luka Doncic.

The reigning rookie of the year sprained his right ankle in the opening minutes of a 122-118 overtime loss to Miami, the first of five straight games for the Mavericks against the teams that entered Sunday with the five best records in the Eastern Conference.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said he didn't expect Doncic to play Monday in Milwaukee against reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, although he stressed it wasn't a medical opinion. X-rays were negative.

The rally from a 24-point deficit to a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter against the Heat was probably the most encouraging thing to happen to the resurgent Mavericks this season.

But the reality was they still lost and have games against East contenders every other day through next Sunday. Three of the remaining four are on the road.

“It's going to be opportunities, a lot of touches for a lot of people,” said guard J.J. Barea, who played in just six of the first 24 games but figures to have more nights like his 12 points in 13 minutes against the Heat as long as Doncic is sidelined.

“Just got to be ready. With him here, with him not here, we've still got to start the games better.”

Doncic was coming off the latest of many eye-opening games this season. A former teenage star in Spain, the Slovenian wowed the crowd in Mexico City with a pre-game speech in flawless Spanish before scoring 41 points with 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a 122-111 win over Detroit.