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Dallas Mavericks Fans, the Sky is Not Falling and Dirk Nowitzki Will Return

There is no way to sugar-coat the obvious; the Dallas Mavericks are hard to watch when Dirk Nowitzki is out of the lineup.  It is also a struggle when Caron Butler is out of the lineup but he is gone for the year so the immediate glimmer of hope is the return of Nowitzki.  It clearly a tale of the Mavericks having a different identity without their MVP as the players have their struggles creating scoring opportunities for themselves when Nowitzki is out of the lineup. Before the game against the San Antonio Spurs, in games where Nowitzki was in the lineup, the team averaged 99.5 points/game while allowing only 93.5 points/game.  Without Nowitzki in the lineup, they had averaged 91.8 points/game while allowing 97 points/game.

Dirk Nowitzki missed the game against the San Antonio Spurs, his ninth straight game due to a sprained right knee; the Mavericks are now 2-7 without Nowitzki in the lineup.  On Friday morning, the nine-time All-Star showed solid signs that his return could be just around the corner.  Reports indicate that Nowitzki went through a strenuous workout monitored by the Mavericks training staff.  In addition to shooting drills, Nowitzki went through a conditioning test.  The blond bomber looked like his normal self while going through contact drills and shooting his patented one-legged fade-away jumpers in a one-on-one competition against Alexis Ajinca.

The statistics mentioned earlier clearly show that Nowitzki's MVP value should go through the roof with his departure from the roster over the last nine games.  We have learned a lot about the roster without Nowitzki in the mix but we know how the team is with Nowitzki, the team can be pretty damn good.  The big German can fix/mask a lot of the issues on the offensive end of the court and create easier opportunities for his teammates.  Nowitzki's value on defense could be under-estimated now.  Having two multifaceted seven footers on the floor at the same time can do a lot of good things to your overall team defense.  He is not the end-all be-all in terms of fixing the roster, Roddy Beaubois and potential trades can help, but consider Nowitzki an über band-aid.

It's time to deliver the ray of sunshine in the midst of the gloom and doom.  Whether people want to hear it or not, the regular season equals out to 82 practice games for the Mavericks, the playoffs are what matter most.  The Mavericks have dominated in previous regular seasons and they only have disappointment to show for it.  Now, Nowitzki and company just need to focus on getting healthy and working towards playing their best basketball as April starts to a wind down, that is all you can ask for.

Red flags have been waived in the Mavericks universe as Nowitzki was initially listed as day-to-day and it's dragged in to the range of week-to-week.  "(Nowitzki) increases his workouts every day, and signs are positive," Coach Rick Carlisle said.  "We've listed him day-to-day because we don't believe this is a serious injury, and he is making progress. On the other hand, we're going to maintain an extremely cautious posture on this going forward and like everyone else, we want him to be back 100 percent healthy as soon as possible. We'll let you know when he's going to play. It could be very soon. It could be awhile."

Nowitzki is going to find his way back on to the court; it's just a matter of when.  Again, the Mavericks are taking a cautious approach as they know there is a big picture and a big part of that is making sure Nowitzki is healthy as they head in to the playoffs.  One thing to remember when Nowitzki does come back, he is human.  Nowitzki will be coming back to play basketball after the longest in-season layoff he has ever had.  Conditioning, physicality and other variables will force Nowitzki in to some form of rust.

In a stretch of disappointing games, there needs to be recognition of a positive which leads us to DeShawn Stevenson.  To the surprise of many, Stevenson's game has not suffered a massive drop with Nowitzki out of the lineup, in fact, he has actually stepped up.  Stevenson has seen a radical spike in minutes and he's responded with nearly doubling his scoring average during the month of January.  The shooting numbers have slipped a little bit but he is taking over twice as many shots in the process.  He has also shown that he can use his own scouting report against the opposition as he can use a shot-fake and drive in to the lane.  The players gave Stevenson a major vote of confidence and that led to him becoming a starter.  The swingman  responded then and he has responded again in the time of need for the Mavericks.  Being able to count on another weapon is always a good thing so the season-long exhibitions of Stevenson's talents are a welcomed surprise.

One major concern is that Jason Terry has really taken a nose dive over the last several weeks.  If Terry struggles in the fourth quarter of games, he is non-existent in games.   It's apparent that Terry is the player that misses Nowitzki presence on the court the most.  Their two-man game can be extremely potent and they can feed off each other.  The Mavericks desperately need the Jet to be a more consistent scoring threat, with or without Nowitzki in the lineup.  If not, they will need to look for other options or live with those consequences.

With Nowitzki's injury, It's all about perspective; would the Thunder be in good shape with Durant, Westbrook and Green?  Would the Spurs be OK without Ducan, Ginobili and Bonner?  What about the Lakers, would they be rolling just as well without Bryant, Gasol and Artest?  The answer to all three examples is a simple no, teams use superstars as a crutch and those stars make their running mates even better.  As a group, they make things a heck of a lot easier.  Without them, teams could probably survive to an extent, but they would be dramatically different.

Tyson Chandler has experience in dealing with injuries and trying to bounce back from them so he knows the Mavericks are handling the injury situation to Nowitzki properly.  "I want (Nowitzki) to be 100 percent before he comes back," Chandler said. "The thing is you don’t want to rush anything. I’ve been there. I’ve rushed. I’ve been on the sideline and been in the same situation, watched my team lose, watched my team suffer, and then try to jump back out there and before you know it something else is bothering you. We need him for the long haul."

As the Mavericks struggle and losses continue to pile up, it can be a tough time to be a Mavericks fan but brighter times are on the horizon.  One major positive is that the Mavericks built a solid record before the injury and even to this date, they still have one of the league's better records.  Heading in to the game against San Antonio, Dallas ranked third overall in strength of schedule with teams having a win percentage of 52.8%.  That means their schedule should get substantially easier the rest of the way.  In comparison, the San Antonio Spurs have a 34-6 record and they rank 22nd in the league in terms of strength of schedule as teams have a win percentage of 49%.  The schedule will get tougher and you would have to think they eventually have to endure their own battle with injuries. 

The short-term may look horrendous but the focus has been place on the long-term.  Nowitzki will be back soon and though he won't fix all of Dallas' issues, they are going to be dramatically better with him.  It is just another step in the big picture process.