Commentary

Howard expected to return in two weeks

Updated: October 31, 2009, 10:40 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle does not approve of this column.

Carlisle doesn't want to discuss how much the Mavericks miss swingman Josh Howard, who is expected to miss the first two weeks of the regular season while rehabbing from ankle surgery. He's worried about finding ways to win without Howard, not whining about how much the Mavericks miss him.

"He's a terrific player. He's one of our top players," Carlisle said a couple of days before the Mavs began their two-night stay in Los Angeles to face the Lakers and Clippers. "When he starts playing, then he'll be something to talk about. But while he's out, the rest of the crew has got to get the job done."

[+] EnlargeJJ Barea
Glenn James/Getty ImagesJJ Barea is one of the players who must step up in Howard's absence.

The Mavericks can win without Howard. It's just much more difficult. They went 17-13 without him last season, 33-19 with him. He was their best player in the first-round playoff series win over the San Antonio Spurs. Their chances of upsetting the Denver Nuggets in the second round went from slim to none in Game 1 when Howard aggravated an ankle injury that already had merited a date with the surgeon.

"Josh brings a lot to the table," Carlisle said. "He can guard 1 through 4. He can stretch the floor shooting the 3. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He's a slasher. He can definitely give you points. He's a guy who can give you numbers. We miss that."

Added owner Mark Cuban: "We're losing an All-Star-caliber player. But I think we're deeper than we were last year."

The onus of replacing Howard, at least in the opener, fell largely on Quinton Ross and JJ Barea.

The Mavericks need Ross, who started at shooting guard, to replace Howard's defensive versatility while not being an offensive liability.

Ross filled his role well in the loss to the Washington Wizards. His line in the box score (two points, no rebounds, no assists in 19 minutes) wasn't exactly impressive, but Ross was the only Mavericks starter with a positive plus/minus tally. The Mavericks outscored the Wizards by seven points with Ross on the floor.

"He was solid," Carlisle said. "I like the way he played. He had a presence out there at the defensive end, which is what we need."

Barea, who carved out a niche in the Mavericks' rotation last season, is most effective as a mini-shooting guard. He becomes even more important when Howard is out because the Mavericks rely so much on Howard's ability to create his own shot in half-court sets. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki are the only healthy Mavericks who can do that on a regular basis.

"Josh is a scorer, so that puts pressure on me, on [Jason Terry], on anybody who comes off the bench to try to get that energy up," Barea said.

Barea played well offensively in the opener, with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting and four assists in 23 minutes. But he was exposed defensively, getting bullied by bigger Wizards guards Gilbert Arenas and Randy Foye, which is a major reason the Mavericks were outscored by a dozen points during Barea's playing time.

And Barea was one of the only offensive bright spots for the Mavericks, who built a sub-40 shooting percentage with a lot of perimeter bricks.

"We can't just rely on our jumpers," small forward Shawn Marion said. "We've got to get inside and beast a little bit, get some easy ones, get out on the break and run."

That's a pretty good description of Howard's offensive game when he's at his best. But enough of pointing out how a healthy Howard would help the Mavericks. They have to figure out how to get by without him for at least another five games or so.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail tim.macmahon@espn3.com.

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