Kristaps Porzingis is getting closer to a return for the NBA Finals, according to Boston Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla. Porzingis has not appeared since May 1, when he suffered a calf strain during the first-round series against the Miami Heat.

The Celtics’ starting center has eight more days to rehab the injury ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on June 6. Mazzulla hinted Wednesday that Porzingis has taken encouraging steps in his recovery while failing to commit to a return timeline.

“I’m not sure. I don’t know yet,” Mazzulla said in a radio interview. “I do know he ramped it up on the court a little bit. Like I said, he’s working really, really hard. There’s been a couple shootarounds where he hasn’t done anything with the team, but has been in a one-on-one setting kind of ramping it up with the intensity level of it. He’s been getting better and better.”

The Celtics have managed to thrive against some short-handed teams in the Eastern Conference while Porzingis has been out. Boston has gone 10-1 without him but that has come with an added onus on the team’s frontcourt. Al Horford averaged 35 minutes per game during the East finals but will now benefit from a 10-day break, a sharp contrast from the quick turnaround during the 2022 NBA Finals.

“It was a lot for our group,” Horford said of Boston’s Finals appearance two seasons ago. “It was very overwhelming, and I feel like we were trying to catch on the whole time there. And now we’ve put ourselves in position in the regular season to have homecourt advantage, to be in this position, and … we’re taking advantage of the opportunities and playing the right way. I feel like we’re more mature and in a better place.”

The next week will be big for Porzingis as he attempts to ramp up his intensity to a level that is suitable for him to return during the Finals matchup.

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The 7-footer has never played in a game beyond the first round of the postseason. Barring any setbacks, Porzingis looks poised to change that and give Boston a fully healthy rotation this postseason upon his return for the first time since the first round.

MAVS-TIMBERWOLVES: In all likelihood, Dallas failing to complete a sweep against Minnesota on Tuesday night did nothing but stall the drive toward the NBA Finals, forcing the Mavs to do a little more travel and play a little more basketball while Boston’s status as a Finals favorite grows by the game.

But there is a fundamental difference between the underdog blowing a Game 4 and the favorite. That, along with the loss of rookie Dereck Lively, may give the Timberwolves more than a sliver of a chance of playing for another week.

When the team with home-court advantage is up 3-0 and loses Game 4 on the road, it already knows it’s flying home and can just take care of business at that time. It’s different in the Mavs’ case.

To finish it in five games, Dallas has to travel to Minnesota, and while it’s understood the Mavs already won twice there, does the third victory look like a given? It’s not like those games couldn’t have gone Minnesota’s way.

The Timberwolves led Game 1 by four points with 3:15 to go, then led Game 2 by five points with 1:06 to play.

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It’s to the credit of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving that Dallas flew home with a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, but it also shows just close the series really was.

Now it seems like Anthony Edwards is gaining confidence (29 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists Tuesday).

Even Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed all eight 3-point attempts in Game 3, went 4 of 5 from distance in Game 4 and helped seal the victory before fouling out of the game.

“We’ve got another chance now to get another one,” Towns said. “Pretty simple. I just love the aggression we played with on defense.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We stood up on defense against a really great team.”

One of these days the NBA will have a team rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The Boston Red Sox broke baseball’s 3-0 barrier in 2004 against the New York Yankees and it’s happened once in hockey.

There is nothing yet to suggest Dallas is on the brink of making history the wrong way. But it’s also not like anything good can come from giving the Timberwolves a ray of hope attached to their meeting in Minneapolis for Game 5.


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