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Dirk Nowitzki's Return to Dallas Lineup Won't Make Mavs Contenders

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Dirk Nowitzki's Return to Dallas Lineup Won't Make Mavs Contenders
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Initially, it seemed as if the Dallas Mavericks would be without Dirk Nowitzki for just six weeks (per ESPN's Marc Stein) after he had surgery back in October. Well, this week marks the fifth week of Nowitzki's rehab stint, and instead of looking forward to getting back on the court and practicing soon, it seems his return is being pushed off just a bit further.

Nowitzki's rehab on his knee that needed arthroscopic surgery after bothering him all season long isn't going poorly, he's just not progressing as well as projected.

Right now, it's looking like he's going to be continuing rehab for the next two weeks (per ESPN.com's TIm McMahon) before being able to return to practice.

That means he's going to spend the next two weeks rehabilitating, then he's going to be reintroduced to full basketball activities, at which point he will be evaluated again and given an estimate of exactly when he'll be able to return.

Before the season started, it looked as if Dirk would be out for the first 13 games of Dallas' season at the very least. At this point, the Mavs are 12 games in. Their 13th will come Wednesday night against the New York Knicks.

Now, rather than possibly making it back for their matchup with the Lakers on the 24th, Nowitzki is going to be out at least an additional five games, with seven being a more likely number, as they play three games in four days right around his estimated return date.

That being said, how much of a difference was Nowitzki going to make on this Mavericks team in the first place?

I think it's obvious that they have a shot to make the playoffs. I'm not doubting that. Dallas has been able to stay afloat in its 12 games without its big power forward, splitting them evenly at 6-6, but the team hasn't shown the consistency or the powerful lineup to convince anyone that it would be a contender with Nowitzki in the rotation.

Sure, Dirk would obviously have a lot more impact on the game than Elton Brand, the Mavs' current starting power forward, but just how much better would he make them?

O.J. Mayo's hot start has been impressive, as has Darren Collison's ability to outrun a defense and Chris Kaman's continued efficient productivity. Brandan Wright has been somewhat impressive and Shawn Marion has played well when he has played.

Elsa/Getty Images

However, it's hard to see the offensive outburst holding up as high as it has been even if Dirk were in the lineup.

Can we expect Mayo to shoot nearly six percent above his career average all season long? What about Kaman at a full nine percent above his career numbers?

Beyond that, when the Mavericks' offensive production does inevitably dip, is there any reason to believe that they'll be a more efficient defensive squad? Right now, they look to be somewhere in the bottom third of the league.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

They're playing at a quick pace, so they'll give up a lot of points, but their opponents score right on pace with them. Part of playing a faster game is that you have to out-produce the other team while your team defense is good enough to force more turnovers, grab more rebounds and block more shots than your opponent.

One of Dallas' biggest problems comes in the rebounding department. At this point, it gives up the most offensive rebounds in the league, while pulling down the fourth-least—a league-leading discrepancy of 5.7 offensive rebounds per game in favor of the Mavs' opponents. That's something that Dirk's presence isn't going to help.

In the end, the biggest problem is just seeing them in comparison to the rest of the league.

How good is this team with Nowitzki up against San Antonio, either Los Angeles team, Oklahoma City or Memphis? Can they beat any of them in a seven-game series, let alone two of them (which is what they would have to do in the playoffs)?

Going further, is there any way that this older, much different Mavs team has a chance against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals? It doesn't seem like it.

They're going to make a nice little season out of this one. They might even get out of the first round of the playoffs, but if it ends up being much more, I would be more than shocked.

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