Countdown: Worst-case scenario

DALLAS -- All bets are off for the Dallas Mavericks if the remarkably durable Dirk Nowitzki suffers a significant injury this season.

Let's assume Nowitzki, who has never missed more games in a season than the nine games he sat out last season after spraining his knee, stays healthy. The defending-champion Mavericks are at the minimum a playoff team.

The worst-case scenario is that they’ll be another version of the 2003-04 Mavs. That one-and-done playoff squad will always be remembered for the Antoines. Or the Antawns.

See, they couldn’t even get on the same page regarding the spelling of the shared first name for their two major offseason additions. Adding Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison to the mix was a failed chemistry experiment.

The Mavs hope that isn’t the case with Lamar Odom and Vince Carter, a couple of similarly accomplished players who are a little further along in their careers.

“That’s fair,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “The problem with that is we had two guys who couldn’t pass. One wasn’t willing, and one wasn’t able.”

Nelson laughed as he made the point, but he’s not kidding when he says he thinks Odom and Carter have the unselfish mentality to mesh well with the Mavs, who became the symbol for the power of team basketball while beating the superstar-studded Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Another significant difference between these Mavs and their ’03-04 predecessors is that coach Rick Carlisle knows he has a starting-caliber center in Brendan Haywood. Don Nelson went the "mad scientist" route at center in that season, splitting time between wide-body Danny Fortson, creaky Scott Williams, 7-foot-6 stiff Shawn Bradley and various small-ball lineups. The result then was a defensive disaster, as the Mavs ranked second to last in points allowed.

The Mavs’ Tyson Chandler-led defense made a parade in downtown Dallas possible last season. If Haywood can step up to provide a stiff defensive backbone, the Mavs could be the team to beat in the Western Conference. If he can’t, the Mavs could revert back to one-and-done mode.