How would season have gone with healthy Dirk?

Dirk Nowitzki has mentioned several times that this frustrating season might have been much different if he hadn’t missed the first two months while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

He figures that the Mavs would at least be in the playoff picture.

Owner Mark Cuban, without prompting, allowed his mind to wander down the same road the other night.

“Who knows?” Cuban said. “I think since Dirk has come back … I don’t know the exact numbers, but it’s not horrible.”

The Mavs are 14-17 in games Nowitzki has played this season. They are 13-16 without him.

The Mavs lost five of six games with Nowitzki in a reserve role upon his return, skewing the win-loss record and his individual numbers. They are 13-12 when Nowitzki starts.

If you figure 25 starts is a fair sample size, that puts the Mavs on pace for 42 or 43 wins over a full season. In other words, they’d be just good enough to probably miss out on the last playoff berth.

A strong argument could be made that a healthy Nowitzki would have put up significantly better numbers – he’s averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a starter – and the newcomer-loaded Mavs would have had much more time to jell.

However, it’s not as if the Mavs are getting better as the season goes on. They’ve lost four of their last six games, wasting a couple of dominant Dirk outings during that span.

Maybe the Mavs could have kept their playoff streak alive with a healthy Nowitzki, but this roster wasn’t going to be good enough to be a significant threat in the West under any circumstances.

The painful reality is that Nowitzki is at the point of his career where he can no longer carry a team with a mediocre supporting cast to contending status. Cuban knew this time was coming, which is why he made the difficult decision to strip down the aging defending championship roster after studying the new collective bargaining agreement.

Of course, that brings up a whole other set of what-ifs.