Jason Kidd mavericks DMN

Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd applauds his team during a matchup with the Utah Jazz on Oct. 6.

During his COVID-19 quarantine, Josh Green may have discovered the secret to rejuvenating the Mavericks’ season.

While dealing with minor cold symptoms and waiting for negative test results to return to basketball, the second-year reserve wing became “an All-Star Fortnite player” against his younger sister and best friends and honed his FIFA controller skills.

When he returned Monday more than a week after entering COVID-19 protocol, Green looked much like the stronger-than-life video game characters he’d operated from home — dishing a career-best 10 assists and showing bursts of energy, activity and unselfishness in the Mavericks’ 132-117 win over the Trail Blazers.

Consider Green’s performance a potential foreshadowing.

As the other six players, including Luka Doncic, near the end of their COVID-19 isolations, questions about whether the Mavericks’ rotation and offensive rhythm should return to the same as before the outbreak have surfaced.

Over the last four games with replacement players constituting almost half the roster, Dallas has showcased improved ball movement, offensive creation and strong communication while winning two games and losing another two to top playoff contenders (Milwaukee and Utah) in the final minutes.

The play of reserves, such as Green and 10-day contractees, including Brandon Knight, Theo Pinson and Marquese Chriss, has presented the Mavericks with what owner Mark Cuban and coach Jason Kidd have called tough decisions about keeping or waiving some newcomers.

“Even in the losses, you can see this team is different, right?” Kidd said. “The ball moves. We’re competing. We’re playing for one another. It’s not my turn, your turn.

“Our owner has said it best a couple days ago: We’re going to have hard decisions to make when we become healthy, and so that’s up to Cuban and [general manager] Nico [Harrison] to figure out who’s going to be in those uniforms going forward.”

There are still a few aspects the Mavericks have little to wonder about.

Kristaps Porzingis dominated Portland’s soft interior defense to lead Monday night’s win, tallying a season-best 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals in 32 minutes.

He also appeared to break a 3-point shooting slump when he hit three consecutive attempts from deep in the second quarter, pushing Dallas’ advantage to double digits and finishing the last with a knowing smile when the Trail Blazers called timeout.

Jalen Brunson has averaged 20.3 points and shot 49.2% from the field over the last eight games starting for Doncic, and when Doncic returns, Kidd expects the 22-year-old All-Star to be “fresh and ready to go” after nagging ankle soreness marred his last month.

The Mavericks started 9-4 in the 13 games before Doncic first sprained his left knee and ankle Nov. 15.

It’s not as if they’d always floundered at full strength.

But the flow and cohesion has appeared different throughout the rotations, even without a formal practice or shootaround since Dec. 16. The Mavericks logged a season-high 38 assists on 48 made baskets in Portland — six more dimes than their previous best and well above their 23.4-per-game average.

Part can be attributed to the Trail Blazers’ porous defense, almost non existent as the Mavericks consistently found cutting players to score a season-best 68 points in the paint.

But Kidd has recognized significant improvement in the team’s communication since the six replacement players joined over the last week. “If you listen to that locker room early in the year, it was very quiet,” Kidd said, but Knight and Pinson, in particular, haven’t hesitated to share their opinions and ask questions.

Regular rotation players Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber are also shoot-first players whose skill sets and career-long roles don’t include frequent shot creation for others. Hardaway and Kleber are still on the COVID-19 list. Bullock was not among Mavs listed in health and safety protocol Tuesday.

Bullock and Hardaway also have endured season-long 3-point shooting hardship, with Bullock’s 27.4% shooting percentage the lowest of any Maverick who’s made a 3-pointer.

Could changes to the rotation and lineup soon be in store?

Positional fit will be a consideration.

Would veteran center Chriss boost the Mavericks’ depth more than Willie Cauley-Stein, who hasn’t played since late November while on personal leave? Cauley-Stein started the year as the first center off the bench, and Kidd had experimented with starting him over Dwight Powell.

Knight, with his ball-handling skills and familiarity with Kidd’s style from an overlapping season in Milwaukee, has also become the Mavericks’ most-trusted newcomer after scoring 18 points (6-of-12 shooting) and five assists in 24 minutes Monday.

He’s showed the ability to beat defenders, including Damian Lillard on Monday, with speed to the basket, fitting a role the Mavericks have lacked. Kidd has played top-two point guards Doncic and Brunson together more often than former coach Rick Carlisle, and Frank Ntilikina has, at times, taken an off-ball role in the rotation.

Knight hasn’t talked with his agent since arriving in Dallas, but he remembered their last conversation well.

At the G League showcase last week, Knight saw constant reports of players signing temporary replacement contracts, and he wondered when he’d get his chance as a former lottery pick.

After a late game for the Sioux Falls Skyforce on Dec. 21, he woke up the next morning about 10 a.m. to 12 missed calls and a message from his agent: The Mavericks wanted him.

A chat with Harrison, a quick flight to Dallas and a whirlwind acclimating to one of the Mavericks’ most promising stretches of the season later, Knight isn’t shy about how much he’d appreciate an extended stay.

“Whatever they need from me, whether it’s coming off the bench, not playing at all, cheering, getting water,” Knight said, “I’m here for it.”

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