By Ben Golliver
It's been a tough month for the knees of Dallas Mavericks forwards.
The Mavericks announced Tuesday that an MRI revealed that starting small forward Shawn Marion has sprained his left MCL. Marion will not accompany the Mavericks on a road trip this week and the injury is expected to sideline him for at least three games before he is re-evaluated next week. Marion, who suffered the injury during a Monday night win over the Blazers, will join All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki, who recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, on the injured list.
Marion, 34, is averaging 8.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists on the young season. Through four games, the Mavericks are 3-1 and have been on fire offensively, moving the basketball and getting up and down the court to the tune of 108.3 points per game, third-best in the NBA.
Coach Rick Carlisle will have to rejigger his starting lineup during Marion's absence. Carlisle inserted Elton Brand in place of Nowitzki and has started Brandan Wright at center, who is averaging 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting an astonishing 78.6 percent through four games. Carlisle's options to replace Marion include veteran wing Vince Carter, mostly a scorer at this point, and rookie small forward Jae Crowder, a high-energy worker and defender.
Carter started 40 games last season for Carlisle, but it might be preferable to keep him on the bench to balance the scoring between the first and second unit with shoot-first 2-guard O.J. Mayo firmly entrenched in the starting lineup. An undersized 3, Crowder could do some of the dirty work that Marion has long been know for while allowing Carlisle to keep the rest of his rotation intact. This will likely come down to whether Carlisle feels that Crowder, 22, is ready, but Crowder's early returns have been promising with per-36 minute averages of 16.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Dominique Jones, a third-year guard with size, is another option. A sprained MCL shouldn't sideline Marion for that long. He will miss Wednesday's game against the Raptors in Dallas, Friday's game against the Knicks in New York and Saturday's game against the Bobcats in Charlotte before being reassessed.