Is it time for Mavericks to start panicking?

Should we be getting a little antsy about the Mavericks?

They have, after all, dropped five of their last seven, looking pretty suspect in the process. Included in the setbacks are two by double digits (New York and Indiana), two at home (Minnesota and Golden State) and another against a team (Charlotte) that the Mavs had never lost to before in franchise history.

And, as we heard Tuesday afternoon, savior Dirk Nowitzki isn’t coming back soon. 

The original 3-6 week projection for Nowitzki’s return from knee surgery to basketball activities will reach six. After that it’s probably another week to 10 days until Dirk plays in an actual game. That’s mid-December, folks.
“It’s tough to really say how long it’s going to take until I get back,” Nowitzki said. “I mentioned at the beginning that the swelling has to be gone 100 percent and the strength has to be back 100 percent, and once that goal is reached then I can obviously think about playing again.

“But we’re still far away from that.”

Wins lately also seem distant. The only triumphs have come against winless Washington and two-win Cleveland. That’s not exactly a recipe for confidence in a squad that just two weeks ago surprised the league with a 4-1 start without Dirk Nowitzki.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle questioned the team’s fight after the 20-point beating to the Pacers. After the overtime loss to Golden State on Monday, Dallas’ skipper looked over the box score and zeroed in on a rebounding deficit of 19.

“Nobody’s focusing on rebounds,” Carlisle said of his players. “That’s the whole game.”

Losing the battle on the boards has been a regular occurrence over the last couple of weeks. That isn’t helped by the absence of Nowitzki for the entire season so far, and sans Elton Brand and Shawn Marion for a handful of games.

While being without those guys is going to impact a team’s rebounding effectiveness, others need to step up. Chris Kaman has tried to pick up the slack, averaging 10.2 rebounds in his five starts, but no one else other than Marion or Brand is averaging more than four rebounds per game.

“That’s the root of a lot of problems,” Carlisle continued. “You could focus on plays at the end of the game, who shot it, whether the ball went in, but it’s possession of the ball that’s hurting us.”

That deficiency was masked early on with lights-out shooting. Remember those 60-percent Mavericks of November’s first week? O.J. Mayo is still shooting 58 percent from beyond the arc and Kaman is a sparkling 57 percent from the floor.

Others, though, are cooling off. Darren Collison is shooting just 34 percent over the last eight games. (Jason Kidd shot 36 percent last year.) Collison was dominated Monday night by Stephen Curry, who dropped a game-high 31 for the Warriors.

“I know he can play better,” Carlisle said. “I know he’s frustrated with how things are going. Right now, I’ve just got to help him get better. When players struggle, it’s on the coach.”

Carlisle has a lot on his plate right now. Brand, Vince Carter, Troy Murphy, Dominique Jones, Dahntay Jones and Roddy Beaubois are each shooting less than 40 percent for the season.

Roddy B has become Roddy Bench the last two games, managing only a combined seven minutes off the pine. Dominique Jones has assumed the backup point guard slot in his place.

But to single out any one player isn’t fair. It’s a collective funk that needs to be addressed throughout the locker room.

“We all have to take accountability for what we’re not doing out there at both ends of the floor,” Marion said. “We’ve got to help each other.”

Nowitzki isn’t surprised by the current slide, especially since he’s not out there. He’s trying hard to be patient on several fronts.

“We’ve been struggling some in rebounding and defense, I can’t really help much on those areas,” he said with smirk. “There are some areas where [I can help]. I’d love to be out there and help the boys.”

The Mavericks can’t win right now without shooting well. That sounds simplistic, but considering their troubles on the glass and being without Nowitzki, it takes nights such as the record back-to-back 60-percent efforts against Charlotte and Portland to carve out Ws.

Speaking of Nowitzki, that three-week timetable thrown out shortly after his surgery has since been blown to bits. The Tall Baller admitted recently that his rehab hasn’t gone as quickly as hoped. Carlisle and Mark Cuban said Nowitzki’s workload has picked up, but declined to offer a clue on a possible return.

It appears likely that a December arrival  for Dirk is realistic. Getting to the 2012’s last month with a winning record might not be. The Mavericks finish out this week with the Knicks (Wednesday) and Lakers (Saturday) visiting American Airlines Center before hitting the road (Philadelphia and Chicago) to close November.

Not that a losing record this early buries the Mavericks. They’ve got a chance to get healthy in more ways than one once Nowitzki gets back. Finding that early season mojo isn’t a given, but it’s not impossible.

Getting it back is a lot like rebounding. In fact, it’s exactly like rebounding.

“Sometimes guys are bigger, stronger, quicker, faster – whatever the case – it’s got to be part of who we are that we scramble and stay in there and battle,” Carlisle said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”

Follow Art Garcia on Twitter: @ArtGarcia92