The silver lining for the Dallas Mavericks during their 0-2 start is that forward Dirk Nowitzki went through some of their practice drills Saturday.
But whether the 13-time All-Star plays in Sunday’s game against the Houston Rockets, that’s a different storyline.
Nowitzki sat out Friday’s 106-98 home loss to the Rockets because of a stomach illness. Now the Mavs are crossing their fingers that their franchise player will be ready to go when they tip off against the Rockets (1-1) at 7 p.m. Sunday at Houston’s Toyota Center.
“He’s here, so that’s a good sign,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Nowitzki after Saturday’s practice. “He’s feeling better.
“I’m hopeful that he’ll play, but I don’t know that he’ll play.”
If they didn’t already know, the Mavs discovered how challenging it is trying to win when Nowitzki isn’t available. Carlisle noted “it’s never been easy” trying to accomplish that feat.
“I saw a stat recently where he, in the modern era, he’s the No. 2 plus-minus guy, which tells you a lot about the impact that he has on the game at both ends,” Carlisle said of Nowitzki. “When a guy like that is out, it gets harder, there’s no question.”
Even if Nowitzki’s jump shot isn’t falling, just the sheer volume of attention he garners could leave one of his teammates available for a wide-open look at the basket. It’s been that way for the lion’s share of his 19-year career.
Still, the Mavs are aware that opponents don’t feel sorry for them when they lose a star player. That’s life in the big leagues.
“So we’re going to have to dig in a little deeper, our defense is going to have to tighten up and get better, we’re going to have to get a few more rebounds, a few more stops,” Carlisle said. “We had 10 turnovers, which is a really good number, but we’re going to have to take that down a couple.
“And everything’s got to get better. You lose a player of that magnitude, that’s the reality you’re living in.”
In Wednesday’s season opener, Nowitzki scored 22 points in 38 grueling minutes of a 130-121 overtime loss at the Indiana Pacers. The Mavs would rather Nowitzki’s minutes stay in the 25-29 range, but he practiced Thursday with no problems.
Then came Friday, when Nowitzki missed the morning shootaround and ultimately the home opener against the Rockets.
Carlisle has never been one to make excuses when his team loses. And he didn’t make one when they lost Friday to the Rockets sans Nowitzki.
“It’s a league right now where you’ve got to do everything hard and you’ve got to do everything very well,” Carlisle said. “Margins are slim, our margins at this point and time are very slim, because we’re not at 100 percent health.
“It’s very challenging, so we’ve got to meet the challenges. We’ve got to rise above our challenges and do better — simple as that.”