- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- Only fools are talking about Father Time after watching Dirk Nowitzki’s dominant performances over the past few days.
The face of the Mavericks’ franchise is finally performing like a Hall of Famer again. And it’s still not enough for this flawed team to feel like it has a legitimate shot to make the playoffs.
For much of this season, there was hope in the locker room that the Mavs could get on a roll if Dirk could just get right. Well, that’s apparently wrong.
Just look at the past two games. The Mavs failed to finish off the Los Angeles Lakers despite Dirk’s 30 points and 13 rebounds Sunday. The Mavs folded down the stretch again Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, falling despite Nowitzki’s 21-point, 20-rebound night.
“We all know that stats don’t really mean anything in a loss,” Nowitzki said after his first 20-20 game in a decade. “I’ve got to find a way to pull this one out to make this game count.”
O.J. Mayo summed up the rest of the Mavs’ viewpoint: “Dirk is doing his job. Obviously, we’ve got to give him some help.”
Coach Rick Carlisle and veteran Elton Brand, whose grown-man game of 12 points and 14 rebounds was likewise wasted, also talked about needing other players to take pressure off Nowitzki by knocking down clutch shots and making plays down the stretch.
Nowitzki, however, wasn’t looking to point fingers after the Mavs fell six games below .500 with their second consecutive soul-crushing loss in continuing their season-long trend of finding ways to lose close games. He accepts that he must be spectacular for the Mavs to have any sort of success with this patchwork supporting cast.
After missing 27 games and playing miserably for weeks following his return from a right knee scope, Nowitzki has worked his way back to being a superstar who wants the ball down the stretch and the burden that goes along with it. Never mind the 21 points and 20 rebounds he put up against the Bucks. His focus was on the two turnovers and two missed shots he had during the Mavs' surrender of a five-point lead in the final 3:12.
“Honestly, I wasn’t very good today at the end,” Nowitzki said. “I expect better. I’ve got to be better. The last two or three minutes is usually where I hang my hat on. For us to win that game, I’ve got to be perfect, and I wasn’t down the stretch.”
After the loss to the Lakers, Nowitzki made a similar comment about needing to be perfect with the game on the line. Forget about his two buckets in the final minute of that showdown with fellow future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. He pointed out that he missed a critical free throw after an and-1 drive.
In this case, give some credit to Bucks coach Jim Boylan and defensive player of the year candidate Larry Sanders. After Dirk dominated power forward Ersan Ilyasova most of the night, Milwaukee switched the freakishly athletic 6-foot-11 Sanders on him for the final few minutes.
That disrupted Dirk’s rhythm and had him second-guessing himself as he got dressed after the game, especially about the two drives that resulted in critical turnovers.
“Sanders used his length,” Nowitzki said. “I should have shot it a couple of more times. The two that I drove, I should have quick-shot it. I wish I could take the last couple of minutes back.”
Frankly, the Mavs wish they could have this miserable season back. Not even a spectacular version of Nowitzki can save it. He put it best: Near-perfection will be needed from Nowitzki for the Mavs to pull off a miracle of a push into the playoffs.
1dChris Broussard and Marc Stein