When I look at the 13-20 Mavericks, I, for some reason, still see a playoff team. Don’t ask me why, but I believe Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison make for a dynamic offensive trio. One that could still turn their seasons around and snag a low-seeded playoff berth.
But while I believe this team has a postseason ceiling, I also understand that time is running out. At seven games under .500, reversing the current narrative in an impressively deep Western Conference could prove impossible—especially if Dallas continues to bring Nowitzki along slowly.
Understandably, at 34, the Mavericks don’t want to take any chances. He’s their prized possession and in him they find their only hope at staving off irrelevancy. There does come a time, however, when you have to throw caution into the proverbial wind and take risk.
Now is one that time.
Though Nowitzki is just six games into his return, it’s time for the Mavericks to abandon the “bring him along slowly” mantra they’ve preached and toss him back into the starting lineup.
But don’t just take my word for it, as this is a notion that Marc Stein of ESPN.com also backs up:
That said, it was difficult to ignore what the numbers revealed for Nowitzki Wednesday night despite Dallas falling 119-109 in overtime to the Miami Heat.
Season-high 29 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back set. Season-high 19 points, including 15 in the second half.
In his sixth game back, Nowitzki overcame a rusty start, got hot late and dropped in his vintage, fading jumper off one leg with three seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime. But he lacked the legs to pull Dallas through for a signature victory.
So he lacked the legs to carry the Mavericks to a “signature victory.” Who cares?
What I care about is that he hit the shot that forced overtime. What I care about is that it’s not his fault the Mavericks squandered a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter. What I care about is that it wasn’t his legs, but his team’s lack of conviction that lost the game.
The performance Dirk put forth against the Miami Heat was an encouraging one, to say the least. It’s not just that he scored 19 points, but rather he was up to playing nearly 30 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back. And that’s huge.
As was his fadeaway for force overtime. Just six games in and he’s already hitting big shots, the shots that Dallas has mostly failed to hit all season.
No, I’m not saying Rick Carlisle needs to play him for 40 minutes a night, but he needs to get him back in that starting lineup. He needs to allow him to help set the tone for the entire game.
The Mavericks aren’t going to make a playoff berth any more realistic by continuing to play the waiting game with Nowitzki. I’m not suggesting they overwork him either. Just put him back in the starting lineup. He’s officially proved he can handle it.
And Dallas’ loss to the Heat was surefire proof that they need him from the game’s onset more than ever.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.