When we wrote last month that the Western Conference playoff picture would be filled in by the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves, it was assumed that both teams would have their alpha dogs at power forward.
Now that Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love are both out until at least December, that picture could be changing.
Nowitzki and Love both are top-10 players whose presence instantly legitimizes their teams as playoff-worthy, regardless of the other 14 players sharing a locker room and airplane with them. It’s remarkable that neither has a back injury; after all, carrying a team is a heavy load.
With Nowitzki as the focal point, the Mavericks have made the playoffs 12 straight seasons, reaching the Finals twice and winning it all once. Over those dozen years, he has been joined by a teammate at All-Star Weekend just four times – Jason Kidd, Josh Howard and Steve Nash (twice).
Love hasn’t been doing his heavy lifting as long, but it is evident he has similar strength. The team’s first All-Star since Kevin Garnett left town over five years ago, Love had the Wolves nipping at a playoff berth last season despite a roster that seemed to be trying to set an NBA record for largest collection of underperforming lottery picks.
Both teams underwent significant personnel changes in the offseason that appeared to be upgrades. You can debate how good Dallas and Minnesota may be this season. But with Nowitzki and Love as the plowhorses, neither team was going to be bad.
Put it this way: The Golden State Warriors are probably supressing some glee.
The Mavs appear to better equipped to withstand Nowitzki’s absence, which is good, because it may be longer than the six weeks that was widely reported. If you read between the lines a bit, the team said it will be six weeks before Nowitzki can resume on-court activities. You know, stuff like shooting, practicing and scrimmaging.
Let’s say Nowitzki’s rehab is accelerated by one week, which he spends resuming on-court activities. That still means his absence would last six weeks and sideline him for 16 games until an anticipated return around Dec. 1.