Dallas Mavericks Look Like Contender Even Without Dirk Nowitzki

Christian BloodContributor IIINovember 4, 2012

At one time, the NBA team in Charlotte was known as the Hornets.

But that was then, and this is now.

The Charlotte Bobcats entered the league in 2004 following the relocation of the Hornets after the 2001-02 regular season. Can you believe that after close to a decade that this NBA “youngin’” has never beaten the Dallas Mavericks?

I mean ever!

The Mavericks maintained perfection against Charlotte on Saturday night with an entertaining blowout victory that seemed to lift up nobody more than future Hall of Fame forward and 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.

With the seven-foot German still recovering from arthroscopic surgery performed just over two weeks ago, the Mavericks have looked quite different from the one that notched its first NBA championship in 2010-11. But while the faces might be new, head coach Rick Carlisle, the most critical sports figure in Dallas / Fort Worth right now, is still there—and some familiar things are emerging as well.

If you think back to the championship run a couple of seasons ago, you’ll recall that Dallas' very solid defense and bench scoring were two elements that the rest of the NBA could not contend with, especially during the postseason.

Well, the Bobcats couldn’t hold up Saturday night amidst 16 Dallas three-pointers, most of which were sunk by O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter. Mayo was a scorching 7-of-10 from beyond the line and Carter went 4-of-8 from downtown as Dallas cruised to a 126-99 victory.

Another noticeable trend is the return of Mavericks bench points, which was hailed as such a strength during the championship sprint two years ago and showed up big time again Saturday night.

All in all, six Mavs broke double digits in points with Mayo leading the way with 30.

The game also featured the return of new center Chris Kaman, who saw his first action of the regular season scoring 16 points to go with starter Brandon Wright’s 10 points.

Can you imagine where Dallas could end up if it gets this kind of scoring from the center position some nights?

With still a month or so before Nowitzki returns to the court, Dallas is slowly molding itself into a new team, and this is a project that actually started just over a year ago following the NBA players lockout.

Shawn Marion is the only starter currently contributing from the franchise's only championship roster, and yet key pieces may be in place to send the Mavericks much deeper into the postseason than last year. Ironically, they were swept in the first round in the 2012 playoffs by the eventual Western Conference champion Oklahoma City—the same team that the Mavs beat in the Western Conference Finals just a year before positioning themselves to win a title.

Even without Nowitzki, Dallas has depth, offense and some tall, athletic players that are definitely paying dividends. Wright is a shot-blocking machine who actually compares favorably, in spirit, to Tyson Chandler. And when you consider the presence of Kaman and Elton Brand, you can see what I mean.

Granted, Saturday’s victory over Charlotte came against a team that won only seven games a year ago and obviously has never won against Dallas. Perhaps that will change when Charlotte devises a color scheme consisting of something other than dark blue, light blue, orange, gray and white.

But until then, Carlisle’s 200th career victory as head coach of the Mavericks bears an encouraging resemblance to how he led his troops to the top of the mountain recently.

The Dallas defense will improve as the team gets healthy, and we already know that the Mavs can score. Their average of 106.3 points per game ranks them third in the NBA, heading into Sunday, and this was probably the area that many thought would not be a strength without Nowitzki early on.

Put it this way: Dallas played at Utah last Wednesday, also Halloween night. Only a scary third quarter in that game against the Jazz could have prevented the Mavericks from being undefeated along with San Antonio in the Southwest Division.

It’s much too early to tell, and the Dallas plot for this year will certainly thicken as the season goes on.

But to this point, the Mavericks look like a contender—and that’s without 2010-11 NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.