Bernucca: Do injuries to Love, Nowitzki change West playoff picture?

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.

Now?

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.

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  1. Tivostevo says

    I love the focus on all these teams that are dependent upon players who take “injury prone” to a new level. Roy, Kirilenko, Bogut, Curry, let alone those who are more durable but are injured presently (Nowitski, Rubio, ans Love). Dallas and Minny are positioned better because of the perceived durability of their stars, however, Dirk is getting older and integrating all these new pieces is harder than it seems. Granted Minny and Big D at least have the staff to make it happen. Jackson is woefully outmatched. You should be watching out for the other 8th seed contender you lightly dismissed – Utah. They look to be pretty formidable.

  2. blahblahblah says

    “emerging stud center Nikola Pekovic, whose effectiveness without riding shotgun to Love remains to be seen.”

    Love missed 11 games last year. Here are Pek’s averages for those 11 games:
    31.3 Mpg, 16.4 Pts, 56.7% FG, 9.2 Boards, 1 Ast, .6 Blk, .7 Stl, 1.3 TO

    I suppose it’s a relatively small sample size, but considering Pek only started getting regular minutes ~50 games ago, that’s not too bad. Pek was also playing with bone spurs in his ankles that he had surgery on over the off season for the majority of these games.

    • Chris Bernucca says

      Mr. Blah,

      I love the guy. I thought he was great in Superman 2 and he was fantastic as the Wolves center as well. I would just like to see it in a more urgent setting than the end of a lost season. I do think he is up to the task, however. Thanks for reading. CB

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