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Dirk Nowitzki cherishes 20 seasons, content to help Mavs rebuild

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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki made peace years ago with the reality that spending his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks would likely mean little or no chance to win a second championship.

The most accomplished European player in NBA history never seriously considered leaving the franchise that courted him as a teenager in Germany and drafted him five days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

Now in his 20th season, Nowitzki is comfortable with the idea that he led the Mavericks to their first title and can try to help a younger core build toward making Dallas a title contender again.

“I just think I pride myself with this city, with this organization, whatever this city or this franchise goes through, I want to push it through,” Nowitzki said. “I want to be there for it. If it’s rebuilding, I want to push it through and help as much as I can. If we’re playing for a championship, then I’ll do that.”

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since beating Miami in the Finals in 2011, LeBron James‘ first season with the Heat. They had a woeful start for the second straight year, all but assuring that they will miss the playoffs with consecutive losing seasons for the first time since Nowitzki’s first two.

The slide out of contention means little to the context of Nowitzki’s career: a 7-footer who changed the game with his 3-point shooting, the first foreign-born player to reach 30,000 points and the distinction with Kobe Bryant (Lakers) as the only players to spend 20 seasons with the same franchise.

“I think the reality is that when you see this kind of consistency of greatness, there’s a tendency to take it for granted,” said Rick Carlisle, in his 10th season as Nowitzki’s coach. “And we must be careful about taking this for granted. We’re seeing a generational player that’s changed the game.”

Nowitzki still starts – Carlisle pretty much declared earlier this season that he will start as long as he’s playing – but often sits at the end of close games. He’s probably the fourth scoring option, behind Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and even rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

But the 39-year-old played the first 54 games, an important measure for him to feel he’s contributing. Nowitzki, the only 7-footer to win the 3-point contest that’s part of All-Star weekend, is in position for the best shooting percentage of his career from beyond the arc. The number of attempts isn’t far off from his prime either.

“I wish he can play forever,” said Washington coach Scott Brooks, who was at Oklahoma City when the Thunder lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference finals and beat them in the first round the next year.

“You know the time is winding down, you don’t know how many more years he has. He probably has maybe six or seven more left in him,” Brooks said, trying to keep a straight face.

Nowitzki has already said he is considering a 21st season. Barring a dramatic improvement through a trade, the draft or free agency, that likely means another year of helping turn Smith into a point guard that can guide a champion the way Nowitzki credits Jason Kidd for doing in Dallas.

Assuming the Mavericks stay near the bottom of the West standings, they’ll have another high draft pick after getting Smith at No. 9. That will be another young player who sees the work Nowitzki does away from the court to stay in shape, and a 13-time All-Star who is frequently the last player to quit shooting after practice.

J.J. Barea spent his first five seasons with the Mavericks and was still a relatively young guard at 26 when the Mavericks won the title.

“I used him a lot,” said Barea, who returned to Dallas three years ago. “If I work half of what he does, I’m going to be all right. These guys, they really didn’t get him at his best like I got him. But they still see how hard you’ve got to work to be able to play out there with us.”

Nowitzki doesn’t mind admitting that practice isn’t quite as fun as it used to be.

“But once the ball goes up, it’s still great,” said the 2007 MVP, who has career averages of 21.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. “I still love to compete. I still love to be out there for the guys and trying to help them with my experience and spread the floor for them and maybe getting some timely scoring here and there.”

Always big on self-deprecation, Nowitzki quips that he can’t help the younger players by showing them any moves. He doesn’t have to be joking to acknowledge that his patented one-legged fadeaway jumper isn’t nearly as dangerous as it was when he was Finals MVP.

What Nowitzki can offer is work ethic and experience, not to mention longevity. He became the sixth NBA player to reach 50,000 minutes Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Clippers.

“It’s been two decades of fun and competing,” Nowitzki said. “Getting to 20 years is special. There’s not a lot of guys that have done it. Not a lot of guys have done it with one franchise. I’m proud of that, but want to finish the season strong.”

Nowitzki always finds a way to steer the conversation back to the present – and future.

 

Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor

Lakers star Anthony Davis
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Anthony Davis dislikes playing center.

The Heat let him get away with it.

The Lakers’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals turned on the six minutes where Davis was the only center on the floor. No Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris or JaVale McGee for Los Angeles. No Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard for Miami.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!

Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.

Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.

Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:

  • 48 points by Allen Iverson in 2001
  • 36 points by Michael Jordan in 1991
  • 36 points by Kevin Durant in 2012
  • 34 points by Adrian Dantley in 1988
  • 34 points by Anthony Davis in 2020

Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.

Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.

Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.

Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”

The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.

The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.

That run became 75-30.

“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.

That was the ballgame.

The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.

Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Heat Finals is Friday night.

“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”

“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.

More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.

Goran Dragic did not come out of the locker room for the second half and had X-rays on his foot. While there is nothing official, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he tore his plantar fascia. He is officially TBD, but it will be a difficult injury to play through. It’s devastating blow for Miami.

With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).

In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.

This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.

“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”

The Lakers got 13 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and 11 from Danny Green (who hit three from beyond the arc).

Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.

Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.

Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.

“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”

Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury

Goran Dragic injury
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Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.

Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.

There are no other details on the injury as of yet.

Tyler Herro started the second half for Miami in his place.

The Heat has struggled with the Lakers length — and Los Angeles can’t miss from three — with that has the Heat down 26 early in the third quarter.

L.A. Lakers will stay big, start Dwight Howard at center

Dwight Howard start
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While it is easy to say the Lakers’ best lineups have Anthony Davis at center, the numbers say the Lakers are best playing big with another player at center and Davis at the four.

That’s how the Lakers will start the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Wednesday — and Dwight Howard gets the call, the team announced.

This start was expected, especially after how well Dwight Howard played in the Denver series against Nikola Jokic.

It creates an interesting defensive choice for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat: Do they start Bam Adebayo on Davis and have Jae Crowder on Howard, or reverse that. Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player who may be the best one-on-one matchup in the league for Davis,  but does Spoelstra want to risk early foul trouble for his star center, and would it wear Adebayo down to have to work so hard on both ends. Expect Crowder to start on Davis and Adebayo to get the key minutes later in the game.

The challenge for the Lakers: Howard fouls a lot.

“Probably fouling,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said when asked what was at the top of the team scouting report for the Heat. “I think they are great at getting to the free throw line. If we can play with discipline, not give them opportunities to shoot free throws, set their defense, that will help us win games, because they are great at getting to the free throw line.”

Howard can’t mess that plan up for Los Angeles. But he’s going to get the chance.