Dirk Nowitzki needs a big night for survival

DALLAS -- There's a Dallas Mavericks postseason refrain that is as true now as ever heading into tonight's do-or-die Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder: Dirk Nowitzki must be great to have a chance to win.

Nowitzki certainly hasn't been bad in the first three games of this now lopsided series in the favor of the rising Thunder. But Dirk hasn't been Finals MVP worthy either, especially in the Game 3 wipeout when he had just 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting. He had just two buckets in the second half, and everyone knows that's not going to cut it.

The 17 points is another example of how dominant Dirk was last postseason in leading Dallas to the title. In 21 postseason games, he posted just two games of less than 20 points. He scored 17 in Game 4 against the Lakers and 18 in Game 3 against the Thunder in the West finals.

It also exemplifies the scoring help he received throughout the postseason because the Mavs won both of those games. When he scored 25 and 31 in the first two games in this first-round series, respectively, Dallas took those games down to the wire, and if Nowitzki hits an open 3-pointer or a 12-foot baseline fallaway in crunch time, the Mavs win Game 2.

But when he scored 17 in Game 3, the Mavs were nowhere near the lead beyond a few minutes early in the third quarter.

Nowitzki is one of just four players in NBA history with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. He might not reach either mark this postseason. He enters Game 4 with a scoring average of 24.3 points, his lowest mark since the 2007 Golden State flop when he averaged 19.7 points on less than 40 percent shooting. His 6.7 rebounds per game is the lowest of his career, and he'll have to do some heavy-duty work to match his previous low of 8.1 from last season and 2001.

Forget about the rebounds, the Mavs desperately need the scoring. And it might take a 40-point night tonight like he twice recorded in five games against OKC in the West finals to keep Dallas' season alive.

"That’s something I can help with," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I think we can do more play-calling if we have to. When we were in our flow stuff (Thursday) night we didn’t do a good job, and that’s one of the areas where we’ve been one of the better teams in the league. And when that happens I’ve got to make sure we have the right kind of structure in the game. I allowed to let the guys keep playing because we’ve been able to play our way out of some rough spots this year and in the first two games. It didn’t work out that way. I’m going to study it hard. I don’t want to over-study it, but I’ve got to have the right pulse on what’s going on out there."