With Dirk Nowitzki slated to miss his second straight preseason game Friday night when the Dallas Mavericks entertain the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center, his absence provides an opportunity for someone else.
“Dirk can’t play 48 minutes in a game, so we’re going to be playing somewhere between 16, 18, 20 minutes without him,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Thursday’s practice at AAC. “Right now with the games not counting on the regular-season record, it’s a good time to look at different combinations and work on that aspect of our game.
“It’s a hugely important part of our game, because we’ve got to be able to hold the fort down when he’s out.”
Nowitzki has been sidelined since he suffered a right hip contusion early in the second half of last Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage.
In addition to sitting out Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Houston Rockets and Friday night’s contest against the Thunder, the Mavs aren’t sure if their 12-time All-Star will be ready to play in Sunday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers.
“He went through non-contact things in practice [Thursday] and did well, so he’s continuing to make progress,” Carlisle said. “He won’t play [Friday night], and then from there we’ll see where we are for Sunday.”
One player who stands to benefit from Nowitzki’s absence is Charlie Villanueva. The nine-year veteran is operating on a non-guaranteed contract for the first time in his career, and as of now has no guarantee that he’ll make the Mavs’ final 15-man roster.
Villanueva, though, scored 13 points in just 14 minutes during the 111-1008 loss to the Rockets. However, Villanueva’s defense was suspect because he fouled out in his short time on the court against Houston.
“You don’t have to be a great defender to fit well into a system, but you’ve got to prove that you can stand your ground within that system,” Carlisle said. “In nine days I’ve liked a lot of things about Charlie.
“He’s an intelligent player, he’s a very good basketball IQ guy. He’ll figure out what he needs to do within our system, and then he’s got to stay in his ground and hold up.”
Chandler Parsons also is holding up while waiting for the chance to play with Nowitzki.
“I’ve never played with him, so I don’t know how it is playing with him,’’ Parsons said. “I know how it is playing without him.
“It looks a lot easier playing with him, so I look forward to him getting 100 percent and getting on the court. He’s a great player and he’s obviously a huge part of what we’re doing.”
Other than playing without Nowitzki, the biggest challenge facing the Mavs Friday night is figuring out a way to contain the Thunder’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“They’re two of the best players in the league,” Carlisle said. “They’re as potent a perimeter combo as there is in the game — very challenging situation.
“So we just have to get ourselves ready to do it. And it’s going to be a collective effort.”
Practically every guard or forward on the Mavs’ roster will get their shot at defending Durant or Westbrook.
“Not one guy is going to stop Durant,” Carlisle said. “Not one guy is going to stop Westbrook. It’s got to be a team thing.”