- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- One day when Dirk Nowitzki is old and gray, he’ll be able to sit back and appreciate nights like this.
There aren’t many NBA players who are more interested and informed about the history of the league, but now is not the time for Nowitzki to ponder his place in it.
That’s why Nowitzki didn’t have much interest in waxing poetically after passing Jerry West for 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He essentially paid his respects to “The Logo” and said these sorts of milestones will mean much more to him once he’s done lacing up the Nikes.
That won’t be for at least a few more years.
For now, Nowitzki is busy trying to do his part to get the Mavs back in the playoffs after a one-year postseason sabbatical that certainly wasn’t in his plans.
He’ll leave the wondering to the rest of us about how high he can climb on the list of legends. We can look at the list and see that Oscar Robertson, who ranks 10th with 26,710 points, might be within the 7-footer’s reach this season. Or that Dirk, who has 25,197 points after scoring 19 in Tuesday’s win over the Washington Wizards, could join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain in the 30,000-point club if he can produce a few more productive seasons in his golden years.
“That’s something I’m going to look at when it’s all said and done,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, I’m going to move up a couple more spots, but more important to me is getting back in the playoffs. That was tough last year and that’s really all I play for. All that other stuff will be great once my career is over.”
Nowitzki has much more pressing concerns now. One of those, whether or not he wants to admit it, is how his 35-year-old body will handle the grind of an NBA regular season.
The rubber sleeve Nowitzki wore on his left knee could be considered a reminder of that. It certainly wasn’t a subject Nowitzki, who is typically insightful and elaborative with the media, wanted to discuss much after the Mavs improved to 5-3.
“I’ll be all right. I’m a piece of work,” said Nowitzki, spouting Dirkspeak for a work in progress. “We just passed six games in nine days obviously and had four in five before this, so you know it is what it is.”
There’s never been any doubt about Dirk’s work ethic, but Father Time doesn’t always cooperate with men who have logged more than 40,000 NBA minutes plus playoffs and international play over the last 16 seasons. Nowitzki found that out the hard way last season, when he was sidelined for nearly two months after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
That’s not to set off alarms. There is no indication his left knee will require that sort of medical attention, but the Mavs are constantly attempting to strike a delicate balance between featuring the face of their franchise and doing what’s necessary to keep Nowitzki fresh and healthy for what they hope is a playoff push.
“This has been a fantastic career that Dirk has had,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who limits Nowitzki’s minutes to the low 30s per game and could opt to rest him for full games at some point in the regular season. “We’re going to do everything possible to extend it as long as possible.”
Nowitzki is already an NBA legend, as teammate Monta Ellis noted. The rest of his career is about establishing his place in NBA’s historical hierarchy.
“And he’s not done yet,” Ellis said. “He’s got a whole lot left in his tank.”
There’s no question Nowitzki has a lot of points left in him. His priority, however, is playoff wins.
18hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
1dMicah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information