Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 11/15/12
When the Dallas Mavericks arrive in the Midwest for weekend games against Indiana and Cleveland, they just wont be the same. But, hey man, the Mavs are kind of doing OK, anyway. The Mavs begin their trip Friday against the Pacers. They face the Cavaliers the next night. But anyone hoping to get a glimpse of Dallas at its very best well, youre out of luck, kids. Dirk Nowtizki hasnt played all season following arthroscopic knee surgery in the fall. Hes not expected to return for a while. And all hes ever done is lead the Mavs to two Finals appearances and one title. Nowitzki is 7-foot-0, averaged nearly 22 points and seven rebounds last year, and is just generally one of the leagues top five or six offensive threats. So, youre welcome, Pacers and Cavs. Along with Nowitzkis absence, veteran starter Shawn Marion, one of the games top defensive forwards, is a question mark. Hes missed the past five games with a sprained knee. It's just fun for everyone, isn't it? Actually, not really if you like the Mavs. Of course, thats not even the most dramatic part. Basketball fans all know about Delonte West by now. West was one of the Mavs most-reliable guards last season, but was tossed off the team after a couple still mysterious incidents last month. In the event thats not enough to wonder about the state of things, the Mavs underwent an extreme makeover of sorts during the off-season. They added guard O.J. Mayo (from Memphis) via free agency. They picked up veteran forward Elton Brand (from Philadelphia) off amnesty waivers. They landed center Chris Kaman (from New Orleans), also via free agency. They picked up point guard Darren Collison and swingman Dahntay Jones (Indiana) via trade. Oh, and they ended up drafting three people who made the team and are already being counted on. That would be none other than guard Jared Cunningham, forward Jae Crowder and center Bernard James. Crowder, in particular, has turned into one of the early seasons rookie surprises, starting a few games and averaging 7.7 points despite not getting selected until the second round. Anyway, try to picture the Mavs today: No Nowitzki. Potentially no Marion. No West and no Jason Kidd (who left for New York). In their place are Brand, Kaman, Collison, Mayo, Crowder, Jones and James, oh my. At least coach Rick Carlisle is the same. And hes won a title and is well-respected both throughout the league and by his players. Also, at least the Mavs have been more good than bad. A big reason is Mayo -- who went from sixth man in Memphis to starter in Dallas. Well, Mayo is more than just starter. Through the first nine games, Mayo has been fairly remarkable, leading the Mavs in scoring at 21.8 points per game. Thats more than 10 points better than his average last year. Overall, the Mavs are 5-4 and seem to be learning their way minus their best player of the past decade. But they expect to be at their best closer to seasons end. As Mavs owner Mark Cuban told FOX Sports Ohio via email, We have a great young nucleus that we think will get better as they play together more. For now, the Mavs remain dangerous and look capable of stealing road wins. When you consider these aint the same old Mavs, hey, that's saying something. Dribbles Cavs rookie center Tyler Zeller (cheekbone) has been fitted with a mask and is expected to return the court Saturday. Zeller has missed the previous four games, all loses. Marion will travel and participate in shootaround before the Indiana game Friday. He is likely to be a game-time decision. The Pacers have disappointed without injured forward Danny Granger, more or less bumbling their way to a 3-6 start. Basically, this doesnt look like the same physical team that gave Miami fits in the second round of the playoffs last season. An opposing scout told the Indianapolis Star that the Pacers are easy to defend because you can play everybody straight up without the concern of getting beat. There's only occasional times where (center) Roy Hibbert is going to go off. You know how he's getting the ball, the plays that are coming. They don't strike fear in anybody. Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO
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