The Dallas Mavericks have Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion, but they can’t win without Dirk Nowitzki. Having Caron Butler sidelined for the season and Rodrigue Beaubois still recovering from injury don’t exactly help matters, but Nowitzki is the type of player who makes all things go, and transforms a roster of oddly fitting pieces into a would-be contender.
Nowitzki has missed the last eight games with a knee injury, and the Mavericks have struggled accordingly. Six of those eight games have resulted in Dallas losses, offering one of the most successful NBA franchises of the last decade a rare glimpse into regular season irrelevance. Say what you will about Dallas’ playoff track record, but they have a history of performing extraordinarily well during the regular season, largely by relying on Nowitzki’s superhuman scoring abilities. The Mavs are trying to make do without Dirk, but the team looks outmatched almost every night. Despite a pretty talented roster and some big names, the Mavericks just don’t function properly without having Nowitzki around as an anchor.
That’s just fine with Tyson Chandler, who would rather have Dirk back later than sooner, so long as it means the team’s star is fully healthy for the long haul. Here’s Chandler’s take, via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas:
“As tough as it is to take losses — I’m a very passionate person and I take every loss personally – I would much rather have him down the stretch when it counts,” Chandler said. “This is not the playoffs. We’re not winning any championships right now. But, I’m not going to kid you, it is build throughout the season. The thing we have to do is bunker down as individuals defensively and really try to turn this thing around.”
Frankly, this is the only mindset the Mavs can afford to take. Losing is hard on the members of any team (and particularly on a player as fiercely competitive as Chandler), but if Nowitzki were to come back early from his injury, the Mavs would risk season-long disappointment. It’s best for Dirk to rest as much as possible now in the hope that his knee doesn’t become a recurring problem. If it does, any chance Dallas had at offering serious playoff resistance would crumble away. The Mavs need Nowitzki back, but they also need him performing at an MVP level. Anything less and they’re merely fodder for the Spurs or Lakers in the post-season.