Bucks Lose To 3-Headed Monster Dirk
By Mike Fisher - DB.com
On a snowy and temporarily lazy night in Milwaukee, The UberMan made yet another case for himself as the NBA's Most Valuable Player. Indeed, on the eve of his sixth straight appearance in the All-Star Game, Dirk Nowitzki made three cases for himself.
There is Freakish Dirk. There is Leader Dirk. There is Unselfish Dirk.
And no wonder Milwaukee lost a 16-point second-half lead and lost the game Tuesday, 99-93, to the now 43-9 Mavs -- the Bucks had to try to stop The Three Dirks.
Meet Freakish Dirk: There was the astounding downcourt reception and layin, the sort of play Lynn Swann made famous. There was the ability to school every variety of defender the Bucks could employ: physical Brian Skinner, massive Andrew Bogut, small-forward ex-Kobe-stopper Ruben Patterson. And there was the do-everything line: 38 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Nowitzki was also on the floor for the critical final seven minutes -- during which time he and the rest of the Dallas defenders didn't allow a field goal.
Dirk Nowitzki is incredible," Avery Johnson said.
Meet Leader Dirk: Nowitzki nearly earned a second technical foul in the fourth for protesting a non-call, and had to be talked down off the ledge by teammate Terry. "Look at the score!'' JET screamed, reminding Dirk that Dallas was already down three and didn't want to go down four and more.
That's Jason's leadership, too; when it comes to balls, he has large enough ones to shout down Dirk. (And Jason knows from balls; ask Michael Finley.) But it's also a glimpse into Dirk's captaining style. Working refs, showing fire, demonstrating an UNWILLINGNESS to lose. ... that's the sort of stuff we see all the time when he bosses around the German National Team.
"Defense and Dirk," Josh Howard said. "We got stops, and Dirk's a superstar. He's really hungry after what happened last year."
There is no doubt in my mind that while other NBA stars play too-cool-for-school over the course of an 82-game grind -- and therefore imply to their less gifted teammates that it's OK to drift through games, or even a week of games -- the Avery-inspired, NBA Finals-loss-inspired Dirk implies to his team that an NBA-topping 43-9 is nine wins short of being good enough.
All you need to to gauge Dirk's leadership skills is perform on the Mavs an Eye-Roll Test. Watch the team at practice. Watch other guys when the media surrounds Dirk. Look at the faces of teammates -- of everybody in the organization -- when the big German marches through any of his unorthodox practice habits. Nobody rolls their eyes.
Members of the Colts roll their eyes at Peyton Manning. Members of the Cowboys roll their eyes at Bill Parcells. Members of the Lakers roll their eyes at Kobe Bryant. I bet members of the Bush Administration roll their eyes at W.
Nobody rolls their eyes at Dirk. Nobody who knows him doesn't respect Dirk.
Can I give coach Johnson the final word on whether Dirk is a leader? Dwyane Wade has his ridiculous say, causing Mark Cuban to stick up for The UberMan. But nobody says it quite like Avery says it. In assuring the world that Nowitzki is indeed a Mavs leader, AJ said, "I'm the voice of the team. If I say you're good, you're good. If I say you're bad, you're bad. That's the way we kind of do it around here. And if I say you're a good leader, you're a good leader.''
Meet Unselfish Dirk: Late in the game, as the Mavs were attempting to climb the double-figure-deficit mountain, Dirk did exactly the thing Wade had criticized him for: He didn't shoot.
There was the drive underneath the basket and then the kickout to the sideline, where Jerry Stackhouse was waiting to launch a key 3. Then came Dirk's driving layin to put the Mavericks ahead for the first time, 93-92, with 1:04 to play. Then there was the pick-and-roll pass to Jason Terry, a set play, the sort of play Dirk gets criticized for if JET doesn't hit the wide-open 15-foot jumper to provide Dallas a 95-93 edge with 34.9 seconds left.
Said Dirk: "We started attacking the basket late and Jet made a big shot. That's what he does. He can be 0-for-20, but when he gets the last one, he's going to come through."
That's Dirk. Of the Mavs' final 11 points, Nowitzki scored four of them and assisted on five of them. And he thinks somebody else won the game.
All of this is why in-the-know observers understand that the MVP race should be, at this point, a two-horse race between the two-time incumbent and The UberMan. Let's applaud the wisdom of Philly's Kyle Korver, who analyzes a Dirk-vs.-Nash MVP race by citing Freakish Dirk and Unselfish Dirk: "Dirk could try to score 40 points a night. He's 7 feet tall, has broad shoulders, he shoots above his head; he easily could get up 30 shots a game. He doesn't; he shoots great percentage, he shoots great shots, he gets everyone else involved. ... It's not just 'The Dirk Nowitzki Show' out there by any means.''
Smart stuff. Let's stick with Korver. Kyle, how would you lean in the voting?
"If I was going to vote, I would vote for Nash," Korver said, "but I would think whichever team has the better record in the end is my guess to win between those two. You can throw a couple other guys in there, but (Nowitzki and Nash) are by far the two best players on the two best teams."
Seriously, isn't that about as even-handed a review as you've heard? At this point in the season, it should be between Dallas and Phoenix, between Nowitzki and Nash. And may the better team win.
By the way: At this point in the argument, obviously, we know who the better team is. So we also know who the MVP is.