Dereck Lively II won't have much time to ramp up for his first foray under the postseason microscope after all. The Dallas Mavericks rookie center will not play in any of his team's last three regular season games as he continues recovering from a right knee sprain, Jason Kidd said before Wednesday's matchup with the Miami Heat, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

Lively last took the floor on March 31st, exiting his team's blowout win over the Houston Rockets late in the second quarter. Kidd told reporters a few days later that he was hopeful the 20-year-old would return before the end of the regular season, but offered no concrete timeline for Lively's recovery.

Dallas hasn't missed a beat without its lottery pick, the impact of Lively's absence mitigated by the presence of trade deadline acquisition Daniel Gafford. The team is 4-1 since Lively went down, its lone loss coming to the surging Golden State Warriors by four points in San Francisco. Veteran big man Maxi Kleber has filled in for Lively as Gafford's official backup over that timeframe, though Kidd has also leaned further into small-ball units featuring frontcourts of Derrick Jones Jr. and PJ Washington.

The Mavericks enters Wednesday's action at 49-30, locked into a fifth-place in the Western Conference and a highly anticipated first-round playoff matchup with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Potential playoff impact of Dereck Lively's injury

Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) reacts to a play against the Utah Jazz during the second quarter at Delta Center
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Eyebrows raised across the league when Dallas brought in Gafford at the trade deadline.

Not only were did the Mavericks send a late 2024 first-round pick to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Gafford, but also traded swap rights on 2028 first-rounders with the Oklahoma City Thunder to get the draft compensation needed to acquire him. More vexing was how Kidd planned to allot minutes between Lively and Gafford considering they weren't equipped to play together as traditional centers without three-point range or seamless switchability defensively.

Barely two months later, Any questions about Dallas netting Gafford are firmly in the rearview mirror. The Mavs are 20-7 since with a +7.7 net rating since the trade deadline, numbers that rank the fourth-best in basketball, per

Their defense has been especially improved over that stretch, rising to seventh-stingiest in the league as Kidd has almost always deployed one mobile, shot-blocking center on the floor when both Gafford and Lively are available. Always supplying Luka Doncic with an imminent lob threat in ball-screen actions and isolation drives has paid major dividends, too, with the high-flying Gafford even making history in terms of finishing accuracy around the rim.

Gafford supplanted Lively for good as Dallas' starting center in early March. He's a more dynamic presence offensively than the latter at this point, also serving as a more effective paint deterrent for penetrators on the other side of the ball. Gafford has forced opponents into elite 49.0% shooting at the rim—a hair lower than Rudy Gobert's mark—since joining the Mavericks, per, over seven points better than Lively's above-average number.

The Mavericks' successful new identity is indeed based around prioritizing Gafford and Lively as traditional centers, but their looming matchup with the Clippers suggested a deviation from that strategy even discounting Lively's re-acclimation from injury. Kleber has defended Leonard well in the past, and the additions of Washington, Jones and Dante Exum afford Kidd the latitude to lean into switch-heavy units that could be Dallas' best means of slowing down George and James Harden, too.

There was always a chance Lively's role would be minimized in the first round, basically. Now that he'll likely be back on the court for the first time in almost three weeks during his playoff debut, don't be surprised if Gafford eats up an even bigger share of the traditional center pie once the postseason tips off.