Endless potential for Mavs' new tandem

DALLAS –- The Dallas Mavericks believe they have one of the best wing tandems in the Western Conference.

That's assuming that Josh Howard and Shawn Marion will get on the court together at some point.

That has yet to happen because of the small forwards' injury issues.

Howard, who will shift to shooting guard to make room for Marion in the starting lineup, participated in contact work Wednesday for the first time since undergoing ankle and wrist operations in May. Marion has been hampered by a strained right calf, which has kept him off the practice court this week.

The Mavericks aren't sure when either player will be completely healthy. They plan to exercise caution with both. They hope Howard and Marion can get at least a little bit of work together before the season opener on Oct. 27.

"I love the guy as a person and a player," said Howard, who has averaged at least 18 points per game the past three seasons. "It's just a matter of time before we get out there and get going."

The Mavs can offer only educated guesses about how Howard and Marion will complement each other's games.

On the defensive end, the Mavs plan to take advantage of the wings' length by switching on a lot of picks. That requires a certain degree of chemistry, which is difficult to develop if Marion and Howard can't even practice together.

In Marion's mind, making it work on the offensive end will be easy.

"We're going to be running a lot of free-flow offense," said Marion, who was acquired over the summer and has a career average of 17.8 points per game. "Throw that [ball] up and let's go."

Marion isn't necessarily off the mark. The Mavs plan to push the tempo as much as possible, which depends in large part on the wings' ability to run the floor and finish. In half-court situations, Carlisle will often hand the keys to Jason Kidd, counting on the future Hall of Fame point guard to get the ball to the Mavs' various weapons in scoring position.

The Mavs count on Howard to create a lot on the offensive end, especially early in games. They won't run many plays for Marion, who excels at finding ways to score when he isn't the primary offensive option.

"Our formula offensively with that first group is going to be a little different than the rest of our game," Carlisle said. "We're going to have to take advantage of their ability to give us an advantage inside at times and invert our game a little bit. We're going to have to take advantage of the fact that Shawn and Josh are excellent cutters and that they're big and strong for those two positions. There are some new elements, and all that stuff we feel helps us."

Added GM Donnie Nelson: "From a mismatch perspective, we can really wreak some havoc."

But there's still some "mystery," as Carlisle said. The Mavs can't be quite sure how the dynamic with the wings works until they get a chance to tinker with it.

"If they do happen to be back sooner than later, then we can look at it in practice," Carlisle said. "If not, we're going to get into a heavy road schedule early, and we're going to have to be ready to go off the seat of our pants and make the adjustments and still win games."

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