Mavs need Nowitzki back

After a blazing 24-5 start, the Dallas Mavericks have lost five of their past seven games and are losing momentum. With former all-star forward Caron Butler out for the season and Dirk Nowitzki suffering from a sprained knee, the Mavericks had the perfect chance during their recent off-days to regroup and assess what they need to do for the remainder of the season. For Dallas, there are two urgent problems that need to be solved.

The first and foremost need for the Mavericks is getting a healthy Nowitzki back on the court. The former NBA MVP is the leader and driving force of the team. Without him, Dallas plays lack consistent focus. In recent games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Orlando Magic, Dallas’ offense clicked in the first half, putting up 55 points and 57 points, respectively. By the end of those games, Dallas lost its momentum on the way to double digit loses.

Nowitzki said to ESPN on Friday that he had hoped to return to the team sometime during its upcoming four-game road trip. If Mavericks head basketball coach Rick Carlisle’s recent refusal to talk to the media about Nowitzki’s health is any indication, the Mavs could be suffering for longer than they hoped. Without their team captain, the Mavericks can only dream of reaching the NBA Finals.

The other pressing need for the Mavericks is to find a permanent replacement for Butler. Before ending his season with a torn tendon in his knee, the small forward was averaging over 15 points per game and was shooting over 43 percent from the 3-point line. While forward Shawn Marion has been playing admirably in Butler’s absence, averaging 18 points per game since becoming a starter, Dallas’ deep bench has taken a critical hit.

For a temporary fix, the Mavericks signed former first-round draft pick Sasha Pavlovic to a 10-day contract. Although Pavlovic was once a solid prospect, his recent stats do not reflect a permanent solution for the club. In 71 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged only 3.7 per points a game. His 3-point range, along with questions about how much he still has left in the tank, is questionable. If Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wants to seek a permanent answer, he should look into making a splash at the trade deadline, by acquiring players such as Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson or Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala. Both players are great perimeter shooters and would work well at the small forward or shooting guard positions.

Dallas still holds the second-best record in the Western Conference, but upstart teams like Oklahoma City and Utah are playing consistent basketball and feature healthy starters. The Spurs continue to show dominating performances on the floor, and the Lakers are always a threat as the defending champions.

Unless the Mavericks get a healthy Nowitzki and find a replacement for Butler, the team will slowly drop closer and closer toward the bottom of the standings. Conversely, if they answer those problems, Dallas will get over its slump and will go back to being a favorite in the Western Conference.

J.D. Moore is a freshman journalism major from Honolulu, Hawaii.