During that stretch, Dallas has a relatively soft schedule. The Mavs play Charlotte twice, host Portland, Toronto, Minnesota, Washington and Golden State, and visit Cleveland. They also visit Chicago, which will be without Derrick Rose. The Mavs could be 8-8 or even 9-7 when Nowitzki returns.
When you look at the depth chart, Dallas seems to be OK. Elton Brand likely will assume the bulk of the minutes, with Brandan Wright behind him and Shawn Marion possibly playing the 4 in a small lineup. But none of those three command a double-team or have Nowitzki’s shooting touch, which makes him lethal in the high pick-and-roll.
Furthermore, Nowitzki worked best alongside Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, who have moved on. Newcomers O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison certainly are capable of creating their own shot – and will have to, rather than playing two-man basketball. Also complicating matters is center Chris Kaman’s strained calf.
“When you lose a 7-footer who can make eight out of 10 shots from anywhere on the court when he’s open, you’re losing a significant guy,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our game is going to look different than it did when Dirk was playing.”
Minnesota’s issues without Love are greater, because the Timberwolves already are without point guard Ricky Rubio until sometime in December while he rehabilitates his torn ACL. Last season, with Love and Rubio in the lineup – and despite yawning chasms of inefficiency at both wing spots – the Wolves were 21-20. Without Rubio, they were 5-20.
There has been some optimistic talk out of Minnesota that Rubio could be back by December 15, the back end of Love’s projected absence of six to eight weeks. If both are suiting up by mid-December, that means Minnesota will play 20 games without its dynamic duo. More than half those games are on the road, and the home games include visits from Indiana and Denver twice. An 8-12 mark without its stars is realistic.
With veteran point guards Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea, the Wolves are far better equipped to handle Rubio’s absence. How they fill in for Love is a different story. The candidates are Derrick Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Lou Amundson and Dante Cunningham, none of whom can match Love’s size near the basket or skill away from it.
There is a school of thought that the spot should go to Williams, the second overall pick in 2011 who had a disappointing rookie season, partially because Love’s presence prevented him from playing very much at his best position of power forward. But coach Rick Adelman shot that down.
“Why would people assume that?” the coach said. “He’s certainly one of the guys that has to play there, but it’s going to be him, Dante, Lou, Andrei may play some there. That’s what we’re going to have to find out the next three games and the practices, what’s the best way to go.”
Cunningham started Friday’s preseason loss to Chicago and shared the position with Williams. They combined for 17 points and six rebounds, well short of Love’s nightly production. Adelman said the slack will have to be picked up by offseason acquisitions Kirilenko and Brandon Roy – neither of whom played in the NBA last season - and emerging stud center Nikola Pekovic, whose effectiveness without riding shotgun to Love remains to be seen.
“They just manhandled us around the basket,” Adelman said.
While the injuries to Nowitzki and Love may have revised aspirations for other West teams, keep in mind that the Phoenix Suns are beginning life without Steve Nash and the Portland Trail Blazers plan to start two of their five rookies. That leaves the Warriors, who have health issues of their own.
Center Andrew Bogut has yet to play 5-on-5 in practice, let alone a preseason game. And in a major upset, Stephon Curry left Friday’s game at Portland with yet another ankle injury. Golden State did a nice job of deepening its roster in the offseason, but the guys they are building around are Bogut and Curry, both of whom are projected to be ready for the season opener but have long injury histories.
The Wolves certainly seem more vulnerable than the Mavs, given their tougher schedule and the absence of two key players. But the bottom line is you shouldn’t re-arrange that playoff picture just yet.
TRIVIA: Last season, there were three active players who once were members of the Charlotte Hornets. Who were they? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Fans descending upon the glistening new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn apparently are using the surrounding neighborhood as the world’s biggest restroom.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on the predictably unpredictable behavior of guard Delonte West:
“You know exactly what you’re getting from D-West. You just don’t know when.”