It was announced early this morning that Dirk Nowitzki will not suit up against Phoenix tonight.
The 34-year old power forward strained his right adductor muscle against Portland earlier this week and was unable to go on Thursday in the Mavs’ narrow loss to Golden State. Telling reporters that there is just a little tension in his thigh muscle has eased fears that this latest setback could be related to his right knee, which was operated on in October.
His team currently sits at 19-27, one game behind Los Angeles for tenth in the Western Conference and five games behind Houston for the eight seed. By no means is Dallas out of contention for the playoffs, but their room for error is diminishing by the day.
Dallas can compete with Phoenix on any given night and is in general, a better team. Truth to be told, they shouldn’t need Dirk Nowitzki for that game and can’t run the risk of losing their star for an extended period of time. The Big German is hopeful of playing on Monday at Oklahoma City, a game that the Mavs need him for more than they do in Phoenix and if you look at Dallas’ schedule, it’s vital that Nowitzki stay healthy throughout February.
After Friday, the Mavs go on a tough stint in which they’ll play OKC, and then welcome Portland, Golden State and Atlanta to their home court before facing the Kings on Feb. 13. Coming off the All-Star break, the team faces two crucial contests against Orlando and New Orleans that are basically must win games.
The Mavs then welcome the Los Angeles Lakers to the American Airlines Center on Feb. 24, a game that could directly affect their playoff standing and put them in a position to make a real run at the postseason. That game is followed by home tilt with Milwaukee before they finish the month off on the road in Memphis.
We’ve reached the point in the NBA season that the Mavs can no longer break even on the month and feel okay about it. Coming out of February at least a few games closer to .500 is crucial and the key to that is Nowitzki being healthy and resuming the scoring he has brought to the team over the last month at around 20 points per game.
With Dirk in the lineup there hasn’t been a massive difference in the team’s record. The Mavericks are 7-11 with Dirk and 12-16 without him, but if you think his presence, particularly in clutch moments, doesn’t mean something to this team, you’re mistaken.
The second half of the season could be drastically different for the Mavericks if Nowitzki is healthy and Mark Cuban works some magic. The talkative owner recently declared that the “Bank of Cuban” is open. After the All-Star break, a lot of weaker teams suddenly face up to the fact that their season is over and begin shopping around for ways to clear salary cap space or get better for the future. Anyone looking for an expiring contract can find a gold mine in Dallas, but what the Mavs can get in return is questionable.
The shortest month of the year turns out to be the crux of the Mavs season. It’s make or break, time for them to rise if they really are amongst the cream of the NBA talent crop. It will take a healthy Nowitzki and a savvy trade or two, preferably for a point guard, to rescue this team. It’s all in the hands of the league’s most interesting owner and his Hall of Fame superstar.