Arbella Early Edition

Setting expectations for Porzingis' return in NBA Finals

"They need him to be at top form."

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The Boston Celtics hope to get Kristaps Porzingis back for Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals. But even if the star big man is healthy enough to play, it could take time for him to shake off the rust.

Porzingis hasn't played since suffering a left calf strain in Game 4 of Boston's first-round series against the Miami Heat. When the Finals begin next Thursday, it will have been 38 days since he stepped on the court.

The winner of the Western Conference Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves would present the Celtics' toughest test yet. Porzingis would be an X-factor against either opponent, but is it fair to set such lofty expectations for the All-Star coming off the injury?

Our Celtics insider Chris Forsberg shared his thoughts on Wednesday's Early Edition.

"I kind of want him back in top form," Forsberg said. "But I'm being greedy, right? Like, I don't know where he's at in his recovery. He talked to us very early on in the process. Everything seems super encouraging. ... And you had the luxury of not rushing him back in this past series. So, will 10 extra days put him in a position where he can be something more than maybe just the 20 minutes you were hoping for? I'll cross my fingers and hope so."

Dallas is Boston's most likely opponent as it takes a 3-1 series lead into Thursday's Game 5. If that indeed turns out to be the matchup, Forsberg believes Porzingis will have extra motivation to rise to the occasion.

"The one thing I will say, it's Dallas on that other side. A little bit of motivation after it didn't work out there with Luka (Doncic)," Forsberg added. "And I wonder, not only personnel-wise do they need him in this series because of how good some of their bigs (Daniel) Gafford and (Dereck) Lively are gonna be around the basket, but just in general, I think he's gonna look across the court and go, 'I got blamed for this not working? That ain't cool.'"

Phil Perry isn't lowering his expectations for Porzingis. While he's willing to accept one rusty performance, he believes Porzingis needs to be at full strength in what could be a tough series against the Mavs.

"They need him to be at top form because we saw defensively in this past series against Indiana, their ability to protect the rim was lacking without Kristaps Porzingis," Perry said. "And with the pick-and-roll game, the way the Mavericks like to play it with Luka Doncic maybe being one of the best pick-and-roll guys of all time, they're gonna need him at the rim.

"So he needs to be at or near top form throughout the series. If it's one game and it's like, he's just getting his legs back under him, he's a little rusty with his touch around the rim, OK, fine. But beyond that, you need him to be who he's been for you the vast majority of the season."

For what it's worth, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla shared an encouraging update on Porzingis' status Wednesday. Porzingis posted a message to social media, telling C's fans he'll see them in the Finals.

You can watch the full "Early Edition" segment below, or on YouTube:

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