Dirk Nowitzki Must Not Return from Injury Until Fully Healthy

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2012

Oct 15, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) rests his knee during the game against the Houston Rockets at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Rockets 123-104. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

So much for the Dallas Mavericks pulling a 1996-1997 San Antonio Spurs and tanking the 2012-13 season in Dirk Nowitzki's absence. 

With a 99-91 opening-night victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks not only brought into question their opposition's prowess but also proved the team can compete on a nightly basis. 

In regards to Nowitzki's return from a knee injury, Tuesday night's win should be all the evidence the team should need to hold him out until he's fully healthy. 

On its surface, that seems like an obvious assertion. When you have a star player coming off surgery, you allow him all the time he needs to heal because...that's just what you do.

Nowitzki's return timetable from arthroscopic knee surgery had just plummeted from six weeks to three weeks, according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but timetables usually don't cut themselves in half without some rushing.

From Nowitzki's perspective, it's not hard to see why he would want to get back on the court as soon as possible. At 34 years old, a streak of 12-straight playoff appearances staring him in the face and playing with one of the worst supporting casts of his career, most assumed Nowitzki would have to carry this Mavericks team. 

What's more, it was apparent to nearly everyone who watched Nowitzki play last season that his prime was dwindling. Playing on an aging body in a grueling 66-game slate, his numbers were down across the board and he even showed up a little out of shape after the lockout.

When combining all of those factors with his knee injury, this had all the makings of a classic tank season in Dallas. I predicted the Mavericks to finish 27-55 and assumed Nowitzki would make himself scarce throughout the season.

Instead, Tuesday night flipped that script and gave Dallas a blueprint to staying competitive in its star's stead. 

What it's going to take without Nowitzki is one of Dallas' second-tier players stepping up. On opening night, it was the point guard combination of Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois, who combined for 28 points, nine assists and three rebounds while making Steve Nash look like a defensive turnstile.

Obviously, Collison and Beaubois aren't the type of players who can make that happen on a nightly basis.

Instead, what the Mavericks need is for each of their role players to step up when dictated by the matchups.

And based on what we saw in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, this Dallas team has enough depth to make that happen. Every player besides Dahntay Jones who got minutes in the opener (yes, even Eddy Curry) scored seven or more points.

Whether it's a sustainable model that can keep Dallas near the top of the Western Conference obviously remains to be seen. But what Tuesday night proves is that the team can at least be competitive against top-tier teams, and that's all the Mavericks need to do until Nowitzki's return.

So, yes, Nowitzki needs to make himself scarce early in the season and avoid rushing back. However, instead of doing so to allow Dallas to nab a coveted lottery pick, Nowitzki needs to wait until healthy so he can contribute for the team's possible playoff run. 

One game can only do so much. However, with one victory over the Lakers, lifeblood has been injected back into the Mavericks' season.