How Long Can Dallas Mavericks Tread Water Without Dirk Nowitzki?

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2012

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks sits on the bench duiring a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center on November 12, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With just a few weeks of basketball past us, things are starting to look a bit bleak for Dirk Nowitzki. The latest news out of Dallas is that his rehabilitation isn't going along as quickly as they would have hoped after he underwent surgery in mid-October.

Dallas was optimistic that Dirk's recovery time would be the shorter end of the three-to-six-week estimation, but now it seems it's going to take longer than the initial estimates, and Dirk will probably be out for a length of time closer to the full six weeks.

When you think about it, that's not too surprising. Dirk is a 34-year-old man with over 40,000 minutes of basketball on his knees. They aren't exactly the springs that they used to be.

Basically that changes nothing about the team as it stands, it just means they'll have to hang on a little bit longer than they once expected. The question now changes to how long they'll be able to hang on and whether or not they'll have to make up ground.

Initially, it looked like everything would be fine for Dallas. They kicked their season off with a big win over the Lakers on opening day, followed it up with a loss but then reeled off three wins in a row. Sitting at 4-1, it looked as if they weren't only going to be fine until Dirk came back, but they'd be able to land a pretty good playoff spot.

Three games later, things feel a little bit different. Losses to the Knicks (understandable), Bobcats (indefensible) and Timberwolves (downright confusing) have evened their record at 4-4 and sent them questioning what they're doing.

The most puzzling of the past three losses has to be the one to Minnesota. After Nikola Pekovic went down in the third quarter, Minnesota couldn't count their losses on one hand anymore. Pek joined Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and JJ Barea on the injury report.

That means for the entire game Minnesota was without five of their seven best players, and then six of their seven best for the fourth, yet Dallas was still unable to pull ahead. Not only that, they were down by double-digits for a big chunk of the game.

What does that mean for Dallas? Where do they stand as a team, and how much longer can they tread water before they start to get tired and sink?

Well, we've all got to be impressed with the play of O.J. Mayo. Even if he did have a bad game against Minnesota, it was on the second time he played poorly all season long. If he can keep scoring then Dallas should be able to hang in there long enough to stay on the happy side of .500.

The big problem is that the guys who weren't expected to make a big impact early on, guys like Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright, have stopped making a big impact, at least on the offensive end of the floor.

Dallas has been able to keep games relatively close if they aren't in them, but when the scoring goes, so goes the team.

Really this is just a kink that's going to have to be worked out of a team whose parts just came together over the summer. They've got to work out the little problems so they can work on the big problem of winning games.

For that, all they need to turn to is Rick Carlisle. He's the biggest weapon they've got moving forward without Dirk, and realistically that's all they really need.

Carlisle has been great over the past few seasons at getting the most out of his team, winning the title against Miami being the biggest example.

He has become one of the top five coaches in the league, and you can make a pretty good case that he's the second-best right behind Greg Popovich. Until it looks like he can turn the wheels of their offense, there's no real reason to panic just yet.

Keep slogging along and wait for the big fellow to come back, then if the team starts to falter there will be some reason to panic.