Opening Tip: Can Dirk close vs. Clippers?

April, 3, 2014
4/03/14
8:00
AM CT
DALLAS -- Father Time is a tough enough foe when he isn't teaming up with a couple of young, athletic freaks.

Imagine how hard it must be for a 35-year-old to finish a game strong after banging and running with Lob City high-rise residents Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan all night long.

[+] EnlargeNowitzki & Griffin
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Dirk Nowitzki has struggled in the fourth quarter against the Clippers this season.
Or, if you dare, just look at Dirk Nowitzki's fourth-quarter numbers against the Los Angeles Clippers this season. One of the elite closers in NBA history has scored a grand total of 10 points in 27 minutes in the final frames of the Mavs' three come-from-ahead losses to the Clippers, making only two of 17 shots from the floor.

The Mavs melted down in the final five minutes of each of those tight losses, getting outscored by a total of 38 points in those 15 minutes. Nowitzki had more turnovers (three) than points (two) and had a single-digit shooting percentage (1-of-11) down the stretch of those defeats. He even missed a couple of late free throws in last week's loss to the Clippers, a sure sign the big German had run out of gas.

But you won't hear Nowitzki blame Father Time for those failures. He's not looking for excuses. He's looking forward to his next opportunity to finish against the Clippers, which comes Thursday night at Staples Center.

"I've just got to do it," said Nowitzki, whose clutch shooting percentages have dipped significantly from his career norms this season. "I keep working on it. I do extra sessions to stay in the best shape that I can stay at this age. Keep attacking. There's been games it's been working and a lot of games it hasn't been working.

"All I can do is look forward to the next one and see what happens. Go in with a fresh mindset. That's what all shooters and playmakers have to do. Don't worry about what happened the last game. Just go in there and let it rip."

Those losses to the Clippers, of course, don't fall solely at the feet of the face of the franchise.

None of the other Mavs filled the scoring void when Nowitzki's shots weren't falling, as Monta Ellis has done many times. Nowitzki was asked to create his own shot too often. And Dirk's crunch-time scoring droughts could have been overcome without defensive disasters.

"We've got to get him better looks and we've got to get a couple more stops," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Then it's a different story. Simple as that.

"I'm always looking for ways to get him more open looks. It's difficult. He's one of the top 12 players of all time and people are going to be draped on him. We've got to work to combat that and find ways to make that a positive for us, to maybe spring other guys open or whatever."

Nowitzki is willing to give credit to Jordan and Griffin for their late defensive work against him. They've been able to challenge many of those shots, but he has made hundreds of contested, clutch shots in his Hall of Fame career.

"I don't shy away from taking tough shots," Nowitzki said. "I make tough shots. But maybe sometimes I force it too much if the tough shots are not going. I'm not sure, but I'm still going to attack the way I always have and maybe be a little smarter down the stretch."

The Mavs will gladly take their chances getting Nowitzki the ball in the clutch against the Clippers again.

Recent results be darned, it never seems smart to bet against Nowitzki in those situations, no matter how much help Father Time has that night.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
19.1 4.2 1.9 33.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.4
AssistsR. Rondo 6.3
StealsM. Ellis 1.9
BlocksT. Chandler 1.2