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At the risk of stating the patently obvious, the Dallas Mavericks are in trouble.
Boatloads of it.
Just in case the 0-8 mark against winning teams since the Jason Kidd trade wasn't bad enough, the Mavs lost their best player to what appeared to be a high ankle sprain on Sunday afternoon. The official reports of the unscientific diagnoses of Dirk Nowitzki's injury have him out for most of the regular season's remaining schedule (courtesy ESPN):
DALLAS -- Although no official recovery timetable has been established, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Sunday that the club expects to be without star forward Dirk Nowitzki for at least two weeks.
A shellshocked Cuban walked out of American Airlines Center with two fingers aloft to reflect the initial two-week fears. But Cuban stressed that the time frame is unofficial and wouldn't be confirmed until the condition of Nowitzki's left ankle and knee are thoroughly reviewed Monday.
In the tougher-than-ever Western Conference, losing a star player is bad enough in general. Given the upcoming schedule for the Mavs, losing their star could be catastrophic.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
No, the Mavs aren't playing all of the West's top-ranked teams (although those designations seem to be in flux on a day to day basis, anyway). Somehow, their situation might be even worse: They have to see their predators, those who want them the most.
Over the next two weeks, the Mavs will play the hapless Clippers both at home and on the road as well as visiting the Lakers and the Suns. The two Clipper games are certainly winnable without Nowitzki, and they will be fairly close to must-wins, given the difficulty the other two aforementioned road games are likely to cause. Going 2-2 in those four games is likely a reality with which the Mavs will have to be satisfied.
But here's the deal-breaker: The other three games over the next two weeks come against the teams chasing the Mavs. Road games against in Denver and Golden State are sandwiched in between the home-and-home with the Clips this week, and then the Mavs will host the Warriors the following Wednesday.
Currently, Dallas sits in seventh in the conference at 44-26, four games outside the top spot, a half-game ahead of Golden State in eighth and two ahead of Denver in ninth.
By the time Dirk returns, that is likely to no longer be the case.
After the events of last spring, the Warriors have an enormous mental edge over the Mavericks, even when Dallas is fully healthy. Without the big forward and with doubts swirling about the Mavs' fortitude, that edge is only likely to increase. Especially with the Warriors playing desperate basketball knowing that they have the Nugs on their tails and two head-to-head match-ups with Denver left as well. The Warriors are going to run, run and run some more, and more likely than not, the Mavs won't have enough answers for them.
Speaking of running, the Nugs play the league's fastest-paced game. Speaking of desperate, the Warriors have nothing on the Nuggets. At 42-28, Denver is cruising toward its best record in 20 years, and yet the team remains very much in danger of missing the playoffs altogether. This team could kick another gear over the last month of the season, and given the firepower the Nuggets have, that is a scary thought. The Mavs likely won't have enough in the tank to respond to the scoring barrage to be put on by Melo Anthony and Allen Iverson, and the high altitude and Denver's seventh-ranked defense could cause problems as well.
In this year's Western Conference, one can rest assured that once the teams on or near the outside looking in pass the Mavs, they will do everything in their power not to look back.
No matter how shortly after two weeks Dirk Nowitzki returns, the guess here is that it will be too little, too late for the suddenly troubled Mavs.