Mavericks center Dereck Lively out for Game 4 with neck sprain

NBA: Playoffs-Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks
NBA: Playoffs-Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks center Dereck Lively II is officially out for Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday with a neck sprain.

However, another Dallas center, Maxi Kleber, is closer to a return after being out since May 7 with a shoulder injury and is officially questionable for Game 4.

Lively had to leave Game 3 in the third quarter after incidentally being kneed in the head by Karl-Anthony Towns. He left the game but reports say he has not been put in concussion protocol, that the injuries are all about his neck.

Lively averaged 9.7 points a game — on perfect 13-of-13 shooting — plus 7.7 rebounds a game in the three games against the Timberwolves, but the numbers undersell his importance. Dallas is +22 in Lively's minutes through three games and -9 in the minutes he is off the court. He has been a defensive force protecting the rim — in rotation with Daniel Gafford — and his ability to finish alley-oops around the rim has made him a favorite target of Luka Doncic this series.

Playing without Lively will put a lot more on Gafford's plate, but it would help if Kleber returns. He went through a workout on the court on the off day in the series Monday. He has been out since May 7 with an AC joint separation, but if he can return the threat of his 3-point shot — 34.8% from beyond the arc this season hisplus is rebounding and defense would be a boost. If he cannot go, expect Jason Kidd to go with a small-ball lineup with P.J. Washington at the five when Gafford is on the bench.

Dallas is up 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals and will look to close out the series on Tuesday.