Don't Rush Josh

Sad - and surprising - that your Dallas Mavericks are reduced to trying to hold on to 8th place in the Western Conference over their final nine games over two weeks. But with that gut-gouging home loss to the Denver Nuggets last Friday night, I think they fumbled away any realistic chance of moving up to 7th or better.

Assuming they won't go 9-0 - starting tonight at Minnesota - the Mavs are all but locked in to face ... duhn-Duhn-DUHN ... the Los Angeles Lakers. You're right, they'll have a minimal chance.

But without Josh Howard, they'll have zero chance.

That's why I hope the Mavs are being extremely cautious with Howard and his tender left ankle. And for that matter, with his fragile psyche.

Howard is supposed to return tonight after missing the last 10 games with a bum left ankle that will require surgery after the season. He's missed 28 games in all and totally vaporized from the All-Star player of only two seasons ago.

The Mavs don't need him to hold off the Phoenix Suns, but they'll need him against the Lakers. Without him the Mavs have deteriorated into a two-option team of jump shooters that lives (Pacers) and dies (Nuggets) on Dirk Nowitzki's fadeaways.

In Howard's absence we've learned that Antoine Wright isn't the full-time answer and that James Singleton and Ryan Hollins can provide sporadic sparks. We've also been reminded of what we already knew:

The Mavericks without a healthy and happy Josh Howard are going nowhere fast.

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