I want to take a minute away from the tournament for a second because it is on hiatus and focus instead on the pros. One thing I am fascinated by more than almost anything in the NBA is the impact of serious injuries on a team from a betting perspective. Given that, what is going on with Dallas right now is as good as it gets. Dirk Nowitzki went down to the ground with a crash against San Antonio, and it was immediately obvious that he was in trouble. It appears that he has sprains to his knee and ankle. Initial reports were that he was out for two weeks, but the team has shied away from setting a timeline and it could reasonably be much longer. It never seems like a big guy comes back from a leg injury faster than expected.
The Mavs have lost their best player while they are in the heart of a playoff race. It seems ridiculous to think that a team that is on pace to win 50 games would be in danger of missing the playoffs, but the West is truly ridiculous and that is indeed the case. They are currently in seventh place, but Golden State is right on their tales and can score a ton and ninth place Denver is right behind and has found their stride recently. Dallas, on the other hand, is neither playing particularly well nor consistently lately – they have won just five of their last 11, ad the losses have come in two three game streaks. The addition of Jason Kidd hasn’t been a disaster, but it hasn’t lifted the team particularly, either, and now they have to make due without the big man.
The statistical numbers are bleak for Dallas. Nowitzki leads the teams in scoring, rebounds and assists, he is tied with Josh Howard for most minutes per game, and he’s a strong second in blocks and right up their in shooting percentages. To state the obvious, he is the heart and soul of the team. They already aren’t a high scoring team – at 100 points per game they lag behind six of the eight teams they are racing for the playoffs with. More significantly, it seems more reasonable that Josh Howard will take a step back instead of a step forward without Nowitzki, and it is hard to see who is going to step up and fill the scoring void. Points could be hard to come by. Unfortunately we can’t look back to see how the team typically performs without the German giant because he has never missed a significant block of games.
It’s not just the offensive side of the ball that will struggle without Nowitzki. Dallas makes up for the lack of explosive offense by playing disciplined defense – seventh in the NBA. Unfortunately, Nowitzki is at the heart of that, too. The team will sorely miss his blocks and rebounds, and he is one of the relatively few big men who is committed to defensive play. Scoring fewer points and allowing more points does not seem like a formula for sucsess.
All in all, the outlook is pretty bleak. Teams can often rise up in the face of adversity – just look at Houston without Yao Ming. Unlike Houston, though, this isn’t a team that has been playing with an overwhelming amount of heart or passion, and they don’t have a lot of thrilling talent to step up and take the lead. Houston had Tracy McGrady, and while Josh Howard is a very nice player he doesn’t have the leadership or the credibility to step up and lead. That leaves the burden on a bunch of guys who were much better once than they are now. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors, either – seven of their remaining 12 games are against West playoff contenders including three against the two teams that are chasing them. They also are only at home for five games, and they have struggled on the road all year.
In the end I don’t think that things are going to go well for the Mavericks. What I am very curious about, and what I will be watching closely is what that means to bettors. On one hand the team will likely struggle, but the public is also likely to run away from them in droves because of the injury. If the team performs reasonably well then that could create some real value, but then they are just 30-36-4 ATS on the season, so they haven’t exactly been value stars to begin with. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out. Until I have a better sense I’ll probably stay away from them, but the Nuggets and the Warriors, both playing the Mavs at home, will be pretty tempting this week.