Dirk Nowitzki's injury could very well cause the Dallas Mavericks to miss the playoffs. It's true that their competition in the West (Golden State, Minnesota) has injuries to deal with as well. It's also true that Rick Carlisle is one of the league's best coaches, especially when being dealt a poor hand with his rosters. But few players mean more to their team than Nowitzki, and with him sidelined, all the other players must play well above their means to keep the Mavericks in the playoff picture.
If Nowitzki misses the full six weeks, he would return on December 1 and be out of action for 16 games. The Mavericks have a relatively soft early schedule -- they have eight games against playoff teams from a year ago, but only three are against teams that advanced past the first round -- so they could tread water until Nowitzki returns.
For that to happen, though, a number of players will need to really change their games. The Mavericks are deeper on paper than they were last year, thanks to newcomers Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Dahntay Jones, Jae Crowder and more. Up front specifically, the Mavericks can plug in Brand to start with Kaman and give additional minutes to youngsters Bernard James and Brandan Wright. They can also slide Shawn Marion to power forward to soak up some of the minutes Nowitzki is vacating.
But none of those names are efficient offensive options, especially when creating their own shots. Who will the Mavericks go to now when they need a score? Collison? Mayo? Kaman? Collison is too erratic, Mayo is too much of a jump-shooter and Kaman, while able to soak up a volume of possessions, is not nearly efficient enough. The Mavericks have absolutely nobody who can get anything easy, so without some magical offensive sets by Carlisle, they are going to have a ton of trouble scoring. This was a team that was 22nd in offensive efficiency with Nowitzki last year. How will they score without him?
The Mavericks' best hope is that they play above their heads defensively for the first month of the season and get just enough offense to be around .500 by the time Nowitzki comes back. That'll be a tall order, though, even against an easy schedule. If the Mavericks can't accomplish that goal, they may cede their playoff spot to another up-and-coming squad.