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Art Garcia

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Dirk Nowitzki may not be a talker but he's still the Mavs' unquestioned leader.
Kevork Djansezian/NBAE/Getty Images

No question who leads Dallas -- it's Nowitzki


Posted Dec 28 2009 9:30AM

DALLAS -- In terms of calling out teammates, Dirk Nowitzki's declaration after blowing a winnable game last week doesn't register on the Stephen Jackson/Gerald Wallace Scale.

"It just feels like at home I've got to make every shot down the stretch to win," Nowitzki sighed at his locker following an 85-81 loss to the shorthanded Blazers. "That's how it feels. If I don't make it ... we're losing. I don't know. We've got to figure something out."

Thing is Nowitzki made nearly every shot that night, connecting on 10 of 13 and scoring 27 points. Nowitzki did miss a jumper from the left wing in the closing minute and didn't get a touch with a chance to tie in the closing seconds.

There's nothing wrong with Nowitzki shooting for perfection -- the greats are hardly ever satisfied -- but feeling he has to reach it in order for Dallas to have a chance seems to hint at more serious concerns. On the surface, the Southwest Division leaders shouldn't have many concerns at 21-9.

Frustration after a game all the Mavs felt they should have won is understandable, and you won't find anyone within team circles taking issue with Nowitzki. Unlike some locales where the message is often lost due to the messenger (see: Charlotte), Nowitzki has earned the right to be heard.

"Communication is key in any kind of profession and honesty is always a positive," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "I think it's great that Dirk speaks out."

While his image hardly screams outspoken, Nowitzki doesn't shy away from speaking his mind. He's done so at the expense of teammates, taking exception with Erick Dampier and Jason Terry in playoff series past. He's publicly questioned the owner, wondering if Mark Cuban would be better off upstairs than causing a commotion courtside. He's chastised the front office for not being on the same page back when Don Nelson roamed the sidelines.

"I maybe didn't do that when I was 20," Nowitzki said. "Now I pretty much say what I want. I pick my spots, but if there is something I have to address, I do that."

The former MVP doesn't confine his frustration to postgame talks with the media. Locker room speeches aren't his forte, but pulling a teammate aside to offer words of encouragement or verbal kicks to the backside are common.

"During the game, yeah, all the time," said J.J. Barea, a Nowitzki teammate for the last three seasons. "He comes to me and says, 'C'mon, lets go.' Individually he's good about that, but not in a group situation before the game or at halftime."

Nowitzki has a reason to feel too much responsibility has fallen on his shoulders, especially at home. Several crucial members of his supporting cast -- Terry, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas -- are actually shooting better on the road than inside American Airlines Center.

Of the regular rotation pieces, only Barea, Josh Howard and Dampier are more efficient at home. So it makes sense that Nowitzki is getting the ball when the game is on the line. But more than just pure stats, don't those pressure-packed shots fall within his job description?

"We call plays at the end of the game for him," Marion said. "He's our go-to guy. If he gets double-teamed, he has to pass it to somebody, but if not he's got the green light to shoot it. He can shoot it over everybody.

"At the same time, I know what he felt like. I know what he's saying."

There's a natural tendency to rely too much on Nowitzki. He's the franchise, after all, and is putting up numbers that have him on the MVP short list with Kobe, LeBron, 'Melo and Steve Nash.

"We all understand that we can't be a one-man show," Carlisle said. "That formula is only going to take you so far in this league during this period of time. There were times in the past when a guy could carry a team, but now teams are too deep and have multiple stars."

Point made. The Mavs had seven hit double figures in Saturday's win over the streaking Grizzlies. So many guys stepped up in a tight game that Nowitzki didn't score in the fourth. It's a promising step for the Mavs heading into Sunday's visit to Denver with second place in the Western Conference at stake.

"We're in the business of winning games," Carlisle said. "That's what it is. The formula for our team is going to be good balance. Some nights we're going to need Dirk or maybe somebody else to carry us predominantly, but on a game-to-game basis it's asking too much [of Nowitzki]."

Several longtime Mavs -- and Cuban -- have said this is the most-talented team in the franchise's recent history, including the group that reached the 2006 Finals. They just have to prove it over the course of the season and not just in one game.

"Everybody has to contribute," Terry said. "We have plenty of pieces. The thing is we've all contributed at one point or another throughout the season, but we're trying to get on the same page where everybody is contributing at the same time and then it's going to be scary. I'm still waiting."

Nowitzki joked after the Memphis game that his words from three nights prior mattered little: "Who reads press clippings over Christmas?" He also downplayed his ability to inspire, though that's more about modesty than truth.

There's an old (failed) notion in these parts that Nowitzki isn't a leader. Sure, he's not the rah-rah type, but he doesn't bark just to hear how loud he can get. His message, one way or another, gets delivered.

"He's not a talker. I don't think he's every going to be a talker," Barea said. "He's out there working. He's the hardest worker on the team. He's a leader. He doesn't really have to talk that much."

But when he does ...

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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