By Craig Kwasniewski
The rumor of his demise has been greatly exaggerated...
Wasn't it just over a week ago that Dirk Nowitzki twisted his ankle in a nasty spill? Wasn't he supposed to miss a few weeks of action, killing Dallas' chances at making the playoffs along the way? And wasn't Dallas supposed to be the first 50-win team since the early 70's to never make the playoffs?
Just when I was about to write off Dirk Nowitzki as a head-case reeling from back-to-back postseason disappointments he roars back with three RIDONKULOUSLY HUGE games saving the Mavs season and making them the most dangerous 7 seed in NBA history (okay that may be a little strong, but Dallas no longer looks like a whimpering poodle heading for lottery-land).
Let's take a quick look back at the last three games and how Dirk saved the Mavs season:
Dallas vs. Golden State: Criticized by his own coach for lacking leadership and the ability to fight through tough situations, Dirk surprises everyone and returns early from the high-ankle sprain against GSW. Dallas rode the emotions from the defending MVP and throttled the very fatigued Warriors 111-86. (Hey Nellie, you can't run at a 48-minutes-of-hell pace and play only 6 guys all season! Mix in a bench!) Oh and did I mention that this win was the first W against a winning team since the Kidd trade? This was their biggest win of the season!
Dallas at LA Lakers: The Lakers rallied back to pull out a win in the end, but Dallas dominated the first 3 1/2 quarters. Dirk reminded us why he was MVP last season during a 14-0 run in the second quarter. He absolutely killed Pau Gasol for three straight possessions forcing the Lakers to switch Odom on him as the Mavs went small. It made no difference as he took LO to the post and found Kidd for a wide open three (unlike Sunday, Kidd actually hit it). Dallas was short-handed (Stack was out and they were playing Tyronne Lue big minutes????) and had no business taking it to the Lakers. I'm thinking Dallas wins it if Stack is playing.
Dallas at Phoenix: The Amare Stoudemire dunkfest (and intellectually irresponsible MVP discussion) was interrupted after Dallas made a key defensive adjustment and Dirk clutched up with a key steal and two *SICK* hoops. For the first three quarters the Mavs defense focused on Shaq and Nash and Amare made them pay with an array of punishing dunks. So the much-criticized and soon-to-be-fired Avery Johnson made the game altering change and double teamed Stoudemire off screen-and-rolls. The result? The Suns were held to a shocking 9 points and the "MVP Candidate" missed 3 key freethows down the stretch.
BTW - Amare's NOT an MVP candidate! He's padding his stats while being single-guarded most of the time. Just imagine the damage LeBron, Kobe, Wade, etc. would do if they were never double teamed. His numbers ballooned after the Shaq trade because defenses stopped focusing on him! Like James Worthy was to Magic and Kareem so is Amare to Nash and Shaq. Just stop the MVP talk now!
Oh and those two sick jumpers by Nowitzki? Jason Kidd didn't do Dirk any service by dropping the ball off in a "here you take it" manner with the shot clock running down. (BTW - Didn't they get Kidd because of his decision-making skills???) So with Shaquille O'Neal on him, Nowitzki took what looked like two broken plays and hit a two (wait for it...) DIRTY off-balance jumpers to seal the game and secure the Mavs playoff spot.
Maybe Mavs fans will help me on this, but outside of that game-saving three-point play against the Spurs in 2006, was this the grittiest stretch of basketball in his career?