- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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How unexpected was Sunday night’s victory over Cleveland without Dirk Nowitzki?
How unexpected was it statistically speaking?
The Mavericks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, hadn’t won a game against a team 10 games over .500 without Nowitzki since April 2002. They lost five such games in the interim before stunning the Cavs, 102-95, with what was easily Dallas’ most focused and impressive performance at home all season.
So what happens next?
Dirk being Dirk, I’d fully expect him to try to play Tuesday night against Portland. But the smarter option might be resting Nowitzki for one more game, which does two things:
1. It’ll allow Nowitzki to have a full week off before making his comeback in Saturday’s matinee against Memphis on the day after Christmas. He’ll hate sitting out that long, but it’s probably the best thing for an elbow that is still way too sore to allow him to shoot the ball properly or absorb any sort of significant contact.
2. It’ll give Josh Howard, Drew Gooden and Sunday hero Tim Thomas one more game to inherit all of Dirk’s shots and touches and build on what they did to the Cavs. Thomas got most of the attention with 22 points and seven boards starting in Nowitzki’s place, but Gooden’s 10-point first half and 12 points, eight boards and two blocks overall will be recorded as his first double-figure scoring game all month after five double-doubles in November.