Archive for May 18th, 2011

Column: A New Dirk Nowitzki? Not So Much.

By Scott Spangler

michael redd

This just in: Dirk Nowitzki is now and has been a phenomenal postseason performer – for years.

The lion’s share of NBA “analysts” are hopping aboard the Charles Barkley bandwagon, lauding Dirk’s newfound mindset.

“This is a different Dirk Nowitzki.”

Really?

One of four players to post career playoff averages of 25 points and 10 rebounds and the guy is just now stepping it up?

There is no denying what we saw Tuesday night in Dallas is the stuff of legend. Dirk gave the Thunder 48 points on just 15 shots. That will not happen again. However, Maverick fans have become quite accustomed to brilliance from their star power forward.

In a word, Nowitzki is efficient. There are a few players out there who can put up 29 points per game in a playoff run; not many, but a few. But how many of those are doing that putting up just 18 shots?

And that’s a step above the incredibly efficient regular season numbers he put up this year. In his 12th NBA season, Dirk averaged 23 points on 52 percent shooting, right under 40 percent from deep, and 89 from the foul line.

I recall Chris Webber sitting on the TNT set in late March, doing postgame for Mavs/Lakers. This was a blowout win for L.A., complete with a near-brawl emanating from a Jason Terry shove of Steve Blake. C-Webb launches into his “soft” spiel, which is funny on a number of levels, primarily because it’s Webber himself offering up that particular label.

Webber, who never wanted anything to do with the rock in a tight game and wanted no part of anything inside 18 feet when play got rough, calls out Nowitzki specifically and declares Dallas as a first-round out because their best player fails to plant Kobe Bryant on a fast break.

Just wondering what Gregg Popovich might say about that. Five different playoff series Pop has coached against Nowitzki and the Mavericks. The first one, a 23-year-old German star-to-be gets his front teeth knocked out, only to respond with 42 points and 18 boards.

“Soft,” he says.

Then we get word out of L.A. about Pau Gasol’s personal issues, the girlfriend, fiancée, whatever, and how that may have affected his play in the series vs. Dallas. This would be the Gasol many argued was the top Euro in the league not too long ago.

This reminds me of a series two years ago between the Mavs and Nuggets. Nowitzki had just been hit with a sledge hammer. The Crystal Taylor imbroglio would have buried most guys.

Taylor was a con-artist marking Nowitzki from the outset. He proposes marriage, and Taylor gets a $250,000 rock for her trouble. After being arrested on warrants, it comes out this woman has a number of aliases. Dirk was played. And all of this coming down during that Denver series.

How does said superstar respond? Averages 34 points, 11 rebounds, shoots 53 percent. If only Jason Terry or Josh Howard could focus like this. It might have been a series. I’m guessing George Karl would also smirk at the soft label.

The critics will, more often than not, point to two series when attempting to discredit Nowitzki’s postseason body of work – Miami in 2006, and Golden State in 2007. Admittedly, that catastrophe against the Warriors was bad on so many fronts, and Dirk shared in it.

If anyone could effectively gameplan for Nowitzki, it was Don Nelson. Using guards to play underneath and running a second defender at him once the ball was floored, Golden State frustrated Dirk and dared anyone else in a Maverick uniform to beat them. Didn’t happen.

That said, if we are putting any player not named Michael Jordan under a microscope, some pretty shoddy moments are going to be revealed.

Again, try 25.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per playoff contest on for size. Four men in NBA history have done as much in the postseason. Soft doesn’t apply here.

We all know the deal. Dallas has to go the distance for Dirk and the Mavericks to shed some rather unflattering tags. Because Jason Terry is shooting the ball well, and because Tyson Chandler finally represents a real presence inside, Charles Barkley has decided to be a front man for the Dirk parade. And now he’s not so soft. Amazing how that works.

Kevin Garnett gets roasted for years by Nowitzki – regular season, playoffs, you name it – absolutely taken apart. Somehow, a trade to Boston lands him beside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and KG is a champion. Never called soft or weak? Garnett… you know… the guy who screams at air and rarely looks an opponent in the eye.

But he was traded to a team with other future Hall of Famers and now he’s never to be questioned.

News flash: Garnett is much the same dude he was in Minnesota, just a bit older and the act has worn thin.

The guy in Dallas is much the same, too. He is doing what he’s always done. It’s about time we get the story straight with Dirk Nowitzki.

Read fan reaction and discuss your own opinion in this forum topic.

LeBron leads Heat past Bulls for 1-1 tie

The AP reports:

LeBron leads Heat past Bulls for 1-1 tie

LeBron James came up big down the stretch and scored 29 points, Dwyane Wade added 24 and the Miami Heat beat the Chicago Bulls 85-75 Wednesday night to tie the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.

The Heat can breathe a little easier after escaping with a win and stealing home-court advantage. Coming off a lopsided loss in Game 1, they recovered down the stretch after blowing an 11-point lead to pull even in the series.

James shook off a brutal opener and scored nine points over the final 4:27, starting with a 3-pointer that put Miami ahead for good, 76-73. He also had 10 rebounds, and Miami outrebounded the Bulls 45-41 after getting pounded 45-33 on the glass in the opener…

Wade also looked more like a superstar after scoring 18 on Sunday. Udonis Haslem provided a spark off the bench with 13 points, and the Heat beat the Bulls for the first time this season even though Chris Bosh scored just 10 after pouring in 30 in the opener.

Derrick Rose led Chicago with 21 points but scored just two in the fourth quarter. Deng, the only other Bulls player in double figures, added 13 but had just four after the opening period.

Joakim Noah had nine points but only eight rebounds. Taj Gibson provided a spark in the fourth quarter, scoring all of his eight points. Carlos Boozer, however, was a non-factor with seven points and eight rebounds.

The Bulls missed countless layups and got outshot 47.1 percent to 34.1 percent. They were just 3 of 20 on 3-pointers and 16 of 26 at the foul line while getting beat on the glass…

The Heat got 17 points from Wade in the first half, 14 from James and hit 17 of 33 shots. Even so, they were only up 48-46.

One reason: turnovers. They committed nine in the half, leading to 11 points for the Bulls.

Live fan discussion of the game took place in this forum topic.

LeBron happy for Cavs landing No.1 pick

It makes perfect sense to ask LeBron James what his reaction was to the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery. And as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

lebron

Tuesday, while waiting for Wednesday’s Game 2 of these Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls, James watched as the Cavaliers again exited the 2011 lottery with the top overall selection.

“I’m happy for the franchise, I’m happy for the fans,” he said. “I think it is a good step for them.

“But I’ve got a lot more things to worry about now than the lottery.”

While the Cavaliers’ top pick isn’t expected to arrive as the next Chosen One, James appreciates there will be considerable expectations.

I doubt LeBron is thinking much about it right now, either. He’s a bit busy trying to help his Heat come alive against the Bulls after a very disappointing Game 1.

Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

LeBron James dealing with cold entering Game 2

LeBron James did not sound like himself after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at the United Center.

The Miami Heat forward still sounded confident going into Wednesday night’s Game 2 of these best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls, he just spoke with noticeable congestion in his voice.

With temperatures in the 50s, unseasonable even for Chicago, since the Heat’s arrival, James said he has been dealing with a cold even prior to Sunday’s 103-82 Game 1 loss. He shot an uncharacteristic 5 of 15 in that game, for 15 points,

“I’m taking everything you can get from 7-Eleven,” he told reporters Wednesday morning. “I’ve been sick since we got here.”

Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas reports:

Carlisle cited several specifics that he wasn’t happy about with the Mavs’ team defense. Oklahoma City got “eight or nine dunks” in the final 14 minutes, he said. Penetration came too easy against the Mavs’ defense. He didn’t like allowing the Thunder to grab 11 offensive rebounds. And he was displeased with the fact that Oklahoma City came up with 13 of the 20 loose balls, as counted by the Mavs coaches.

“They may be a quicker team and those kind of things,” Carlisle said, “but we’ve got to be physically and mentally ready to react to those situations.”

Carlisle didn’t just complain to the media, of course. Dallas’ practice Wednesday was a defense-intensive session. The Mavs got the message.

Michael Jordan bids Oprah farewell

The AP reports:

Michael Jordan surprised Oprah Winfrey at her farewell show at Chicago’s United Center, where his statue sits outside.

Jordan was one of many celebrities who attended Tuesday night’s “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular.”

Actor Will Smith introduced Jordan, describing the United Center as the “house that Michael Jordan built.”

Jordan came on stage and hugged Winfrey to loud cheers. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during the 1990s.

The AP reports:

Nowitzki scores 48 as Mavs top Thunder in Game 1

When the Western Conference finals opened Tuesday night, Dirk Nowitzki acted as if the Oklahoma City Thunder and the 20,911 fans in the arena were merely there to watch another of his late-night workouts.

Inside, outside and from the foul line, Nowitzki put up a total of 39 shots and missed just three. He scored 48 points, leading the Mavericks to a 121-112 victory and answering any question about whether the long layoff might’ve left his club rusty.

“I really looked for my shot early and was able to get a good rhythm,” said Nowitzki, who also had six rebounds, four assists and four blocks…

It didn’t matter whether Nowitzki was being covered by someone big or small, one guy or two. He simply made 10 of his first 11 field goals, and 12 of 15 overall. He was perfect on 24 free throws, setting an NBA postseason record for most foul shots made without a miss…

“We fought back and made it a game,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing and stay positive and get ready for Game 2.”

Durant scored 40 points, one shy of his most ever in a playoff game, but it wasn’t the same as Nowitzki’s big night…

Oklahoma City could’ve used a more efficient performance from Russell Westbrook. He scored 20 points, but 14 came on free throws. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots, and 12 of 15—the exact opposite of what Nowitzki made…

Jason Terry scored 24 points and J.J. Barea added 21 as the Mavericks picked up where they left off in a sweep of the Lakers nine days before. They broke open a tight game with a 13-0 run late in the second quarter and never trailed again.

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