Posted Apr 19 2011 3:29PM
DALLAS -- The startling discrepancy between the perception and reality about Dirk Nowitzki should surprise no one.
He suffers from the same condition that any player with Hall of Fame credentials, minus the ultimate hardware, suffers from.
"Yeah, he's a great player and all, but ..."
The perception is that Nowitzki still has to prove his mettle to the basketball public, one that hasn't forgiven him or his Mavericks for their playoff stumbles of the past -- and that includes their slip-ups in the first rounds in three of the last four years and that nasty flameout in the 2006 NBA Finals.
The reality is that Nowitzki has never been tougher to deal with for the opposition. The Portland Trail Blazers were reminded of that in their Game 1 loss to the Mavericks as a sluggish Nowitzki got off to a 4-for-12 shooting start (he had more turnovers than field goals at one point) before roasting them for 18 points in a game-defining 10-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
Dealing with the perception and reality of Nowitzki is the Trail Blazers' charge in tonight's Game 2 at American Airlines Center.
There is no tougher assignment in basketball, so says Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who watched his team defend the 7-foot Nowitzki as well as humanly possible for three quarters Saturday night only to see it all go up in smoke.
"Dirk is the toughest matchup in the league, because he can go inside and he can take you outside. And put the ball on the floor," McMillan said. "You put a big guy on him he can take him outside and go by him. You put a smaller guy on him and he can post him up anywhere on the floor and shoot over him. Then, as you saw [Saturday] night, he can draw fouls."
McMillan wasn't taking another shot at the officiating. His $35,000 fine for public comments about the officiating, dished out Monday, was already in the books. McMillan was simply stating the obvious, showing how the perception of Nowitzki is easily trumped by the reality. The Mavericks star was a perfect 13-for-13 from the line in Game 1, all of those coming in that final 10 minutes, when his teammates were demanding that he seize control of the game.
"My teammates were telling me to keep attacking and things will start happening your way," Nowitzki said. "And that's what happened."
A giant softy, one of the most common criticisms of Nowitzki over the years, doesn't repeatedly beat double teams and contort his 84 inches in ways that defy the laws of advanced elasticity. No player in basketball is more effective while playing what appears to be off balance on offense, for long stretches on offense.
"I don't know how to explain it," Trail Blazers forward Gerald Wallace said of Nowitzki's knack for being able to get shots off from seemingly impossible positions. "But I've been watching him do it since I came into the league. It works for him."
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle agrees.
"Dirk's very unique and the thing that I identify his game with is resourcefulness," Carlisle said. "When he came into the league, a lot of people thought he was going to be a small forward. After a relatively short period of time Nelly (former Mavs coach Don Nelson) made the determination that he was going to play the four. Dirk made the adjustments in his game and has become one of the most difficult-to-guard players ever, because he can drive it, he can post, he can play one-on-one and he can shoot. He's just extremely unique."
There is perhaps no better definition for Nowitzki's game than truly unique.
He's one of just four players in NBA history with playoff averages of 25 points and 10 rebounds, joining an elite club that includes Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit and Elgin Baylor. The Mavs' postseason stumbles aside, Nowitzki has put together an impressive body of playoff work in the past decade. He has 66 career postseason double-doubles, good for 20th all-time.
Once again, you have perception and reality going toe-to-toe where Nowitzki is concerned.
Even on a night when Jason Kidd tallied a playoff career-high six 3-pointers, it was Nowitzki that sealed the deal for the Mavericks in Game 1 with his work at crunch time. In addition to the free throws, it was his 3-pointer from the corner with 3:40 to play that took the Mavericks from down two to up by a point, a lead they wouldn't surrender.
"That really energized our building and energized our team," Carlisle said. "From that point on we really started to get some stops consistently. He stayed with it. And when we talk about the importance of persistence on our team, he was a great example of that, because it wasn't going great necessarily the whole game. These games are going to test you that way."
Game 2 provides yet another test for Nowitzki and one more chance for him to prove that your perception is not his reality.
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