Dirk Nowitzki's injury: Who's to blame, and what's the impact?

The list of NBA stars who will miss the start of the regular season with injuries grew longer Friday -- and a lot more decorated. Eleven-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki had his right knee scoped and won't be back on the court for around six weeks.

Bummer for the Mavs. Double-bummer for the NBA's nationally televised season opener between the Mavs and the Lakers in Dwight Howard's debut for the purple-and-gold. The early episode of TNT's doubleheader on Oct. 30 -- Celtics vs. Heat -- just got a lot more compelling.

Unless, of course, someone else gets hurt.

What's going on?

There's a lot of distance between dots you might be trying to connect between Kevin Love breaking his hand doing knuckle pushups, Derrick Rose rehabbing from major knee reconstruction, John Wall and Ricky Rubio also rehabbing knee injuries, Dwyane Wade easing his way back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Olympics, Howard working his way back from back surgery and Nowitzki needing his swollen, sore knee scoped less than two weeks before the season opener. There are similarities, but no correlation.

Does Mavs owner Mark Cuban, a public antagonist of the idea that NBA owners lend their most valuable assets -- star players -- to the International Olympic Committee for free have reason to complain? Well, Nowitzki had no international competition this past summer since Germany failed to qualify for the London Games. On the other hand, his knee swelling and soreness can be traced to problems he endured last season in the wake of an erratic training schedule that resulted from the lockout and his participation in the Olympic qualifying tournament.

While I agree with Cuban's premise that it's all-risk, no-reward for NBA owners whose players compete internationally, there's just not enough there to say one caused the other when it comes to Dirk's knee surgery. Sometimes, basketball players' knees have to be scoped -- especially when those knees are 34 years old and have endured 14 years of NBA pounding. It happens.

As for the impact of Dirk's absence on the Western Conference playoff race, it could be quite significant. While the Mavs struck out in their pursuit of Howard and Deron Williams this past summer, they rallied from those defeats quite well and positioned themselves to compete for a playoff spot this season while preserving cap room and flexibility to reload the roster going forward. But ...

Even with a healthy Dirk, Dallas was looking at taking up residence in the bottom four of the West's eight-team playoff chase. If Nowitzki is back on the court practicing fully in six weeks, that means he isn't actually playing in games until sometime in December. With the likes of Denver, Utah, Memphis and even Minnesota, if the Wolves can survive Love's absence and stay in the hunt until Rubio returns, the Mavs could find themselves with too much ground to make up once Dirk is back and playing at 100 percent.

Instead of the complementary contributions they were expecting from Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, the Mavs will now need more. The key to keeping the Mavs afloat in Dirk's absence could very well be O.J. Mayo, whose ability to score off the dribble, in isolation and in transition could pick up the slack on so many of those possessions when Dallas relies on Dirk to bail them out.

But as unfortunate as Dirk's injury is, if you're looking for a scapegoat, there's none here. Maybe someone can find a way to blame the NHL lockout.

 
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