Now that Dirk Nowitzki is back in the lineup, the next step is getting him to play like an All-Star again. Until that happens, with the playoffs still a very manageable target (only three games behind the Houston Rockets), players like Shawn Marion, O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter are going to have to help the Dallas Mavericks bridge that gap.

Nowitzki has yet to have that one big game that announces he is back. Maybe it’s his age, maybe it’s still trying to get into some kind of shooting rhythm. He finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds in the 111-105 win against the Orlando Magic, a rare road win for the Mavs this season, who are 7-16 when away from home. Nowitzki is averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds since making his return from a long injury.

Back to himself or not, Nowitzki does force teams to defend differently, and creates more opportunities for other players to shine. Shawn Marion, usually taking the tougher defensive assignment instead of Nowitzki, has been having his ups and downs, like most on the Mavs’ team this season. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his second double double in 10 days as his January has been looking slightly better than the rest of the season, possibly thanks to the return of Dirk Nowitzki. Marion is averaging 12 points and 8.7 rebounds per game this month.

The most important offensive players this season for the Mavs is O.J. Mayo, who tried and carry the shooting and scoring load while Nowitzki was gone. It started out well, but Mayo ranges from unstoppable nights to horrific ones, as can be seen from his previous four games: 72.7% from the field, 21.4% from the field, 37.5 % from the field and back to pleasing numbers, scoring 15 points against the Magic while shooting 6-10.

With Nowitzki getting back to himself and starting to take a much more active role in the offense, it looks like O.J. Mayo has an opportunity to make life easier for himself and go less and less for the difficult basket. He hasn’t adjust completely, but scoring 17.7 points while shooting 46% from the field in January shows he’s on the right path.

It was an impressive effort from the Mavs, having seven different players in double figures – Chris Kaman scored 13 points, Darren Collison had 11, Elton Brand scored 14 points and Vince Carter, hitting 3-5 from beyond the arc, finished with 15 points. The Mavs are an elderly team but with a bit more talent than their record (18-24) shows. If Dirk Nowitzki’s return makes everyone around him better while he keeps on trying to find consistency with his shooting, the Mavs will end up with the playoff spot they’re used to getting at the end of each season.

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