NBA Report: Different, but not down, in Dallas

When the Dallas Mavericks arrive in the Midwest for weekend games against Indiana and Cleveland, they just won’t be the same.

The Mavs begin their trip Friday against the Pacers, followed by a Saturday game at the Cavaliers. But anyone hoping to get a glimpse of Dallas at its very best is out of luck.

Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t played yet this season following arthroscopic knee surgery in the fall. Nowitzki, who lead the Mavs to two Finals appearances and one title, is not expected to return anytime soon.

The 7-foot Nowitzki averaged nearly 21.6 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, and is considered one of the league’s top five or six offensive threats.

Along with Nowitzki’s absence, veteran starter Shawn Marion, one of the game’s top defensive forwards, is a question mark. He’s missed the past five games with a sprained knee.

Basketball fans all know about Delonte West by now. West was one of the Mavs’ most-reliable guards last season, but was tossed off the team after a couple still mysterious incidents last month.

In the event that’s not enough to wonder about the state of things, the Mavs underwent an extreme makeover of sorts during the offseason.

They added guard O.J. Mayo (from Memphis) and center Chris Kaman (from New Orleans) through free agency. They picked up veteran forward Elton Brand (from Philadelphia) off amnesty waivers. And they picked up point guard Darren Collison and swingman Dahntay Jones (Indiana) in a trade.

Plus, they drafted three players who made the team and are already being counted on — Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham, Florida State center Bernard James and Marquette forward Jae Crowder, who has turned into one of the early season’s rookie surprises. Crowder, who was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft, has started four of the Mavs’ nine games and is averaging 7.7 points.

Anyway, try to picture the Mavs today:

No Nowitzki. Potentially no Marion. No West and no Jason Kidd (who left for New York). In their place are Brand, Kaman, Collison, Mayo, Crowder, Jones and James.

At least coach Rick Carlisle is the same. And he’s won a title and is well-respected both throughout the league and by his players.

Also, at least the Mavs have been more good than bad. A big reason is Mayo — who went from sixth man in Memphis to starter in Dallas. Well, Mayo is more than just starter.

Through the first nine games, Mayo has been fairly remarkable, leading the Mavs in scoring at 21.8 points per game. That’s 10.2 points better than his average from last season.

Overall, the Mavs are 5-4 and seem to be learning their way minus their best player of the past decade. But they expect to be at their best closer to season’s end.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban told FOX Sports Ohio in an email, “We have a great young nucleus that we think will get better as they play together more.”

For now, the Mavs remain dangerous and look capable of stealing road wins.

When considering these are not the same old Mavs, hey, that’s saying something.


Cavs rookie center Tyler Zeller (cheekbone) has been fitted with a mask and is expected to return the court Saturday. Zeller has missed the previous four games, all loses.

Marion will travel and participate in the shootaround before the Indiana game Friday. He is likely to be a game-time decision.

The Pacers have disappointed without injured forward Danny Granger, more or less bumbling their way to a 3-6 start. Basically, this doesn’t look like the same physical team that gave Miami fits in the second round of the playoffs last season.

An opposing scout told the Indianapolis Star that the Pacers are “easy to defend because you can play everybody straight up without the concern of getting beat. There’s only occasional times where (center) Roy Hibbert is going to go off. You know how he’s getting the ball, the plays that are coming. They don’t strike fear in anybody.”

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO