In arena after arena this season, Dallas Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki has been showered with fond farewells and gifts in this, his 21st NBA season. However, Nowitzki never officially ruled out a return for season No. 22 and seems to be pondering that notion of late.
Nowitzki started in last night’s 110-101 home win against the Indiana Pacers, which marked his third straight start. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists, hitting a key 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to help keep the Pacers at bay. The game was his first home start this season and afterward, Nowitzki said he’s feeling better of late.
When asked if his recent surge in playing time and role has shaped his thoughts on the future, Nowitzki did not commit to an answer. But, he also didn’t deny the possibility of an NBA-record 22nd season come 2019-20.
“I don’t know,” he said, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. “I haven’t really thought about it. I would love to be there for the young guys one more year, but I think it depends on how the body feels. I’ve had issues obviously this year. I had some knee swelling here the last few weeks, actually before the All-Star break, so it’s not all great. But like I said I am feeling better. I am feeling stronger. But I think I’m going to make that decision later on.”
Playing along side rookie phenom Luka Doncic as well as newly acquired former All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis seems to entice Nowitzki as well.
“I think Luka and KP, if they stay healthy, stay together, they should be a great combo,” Nowitzki said, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “They should play great off each other. Both have an incredible skill set for their size, incredible playmaking ability for their size. They should jell well, but we have to see how it goes next year.”
Nowitzki, 40, missed the first 26 games of this season while he recovered from an inflamed tendon in his left foot. Since his return — which came on Dec. 13 vs. Phoenix — he played 16 minutes or less in 23 of his 25 games (including multiple games of 10 minutes or less). However, he has seen a big uptick in minutes of late, logging 17 or more minutes in six of his last eight games.
He played 22 minutes last night, which came after logging 26 minutes in a Feb. 25 loss to the LA Clippers and 25 minutes in a Feb. 23 loss to the Utah Jazz. Nowitzki has scored 11 or more points in four of his last five games and is 69 points away from passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
“I feel like I have a little more pep in my step,” Nowitzki said, per ESPN. “My legs and my wind are a lot better than [earlier in the season]. I just feel better overall. I feel like I can actually contribute, whereas earlier I was struggling just to get up and down.”
To open the season, Nowitzki spent most of it coming off the bench — in large part to accommodate playing time for center DeAndre Jordan. In acquiring Porzingis from the New York Knicks, though, the Mavs dealt Jordan — which opened up some more playing time for Nowitzki. Per ESPN, Porzingis has quietly lobbied for Nowitzki to return for season No. 22, as the youngster has long been a fan of Nowitzki’s game and wants to play with him.
Nowitzki, who led the Mavericks to their only championship as the NBA Finals MVP in 2011, took pride in playing 77 games last season as a 39-year-old. He hoped for a similar number in what could be his final season. Instead, it’s been more like 2012-13, when he missed 27 games after preseason arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
The highest-scoring foreign-born player, Nowitzki is sixth on the career list with 31,351 points. He was sixth to start the season before LeBron James passed him early. James is up to fifth and is just 98 points from passing Michael Jordan for the No. 4 all-time spot.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.