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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Carlisle on Dirk: 'One of the toughest . . .'

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki shot 51.7 percent this season, the best mark of his career, and averaged 23.0 points, his lowest scoring average since the 2003-04 season.

Through two playoff games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Nowitzki is shooting 38.1 percent, which would be a career playoff low, yet he's averaging 30.5 points, which would be a career playoff high.

How is that possible?

Aggression. That's right. Hard, physical drives by Dirk Nowitzki.

The 7-footer is taking the action to the Blazers, particularly in the fourth quarter when the Mavs start to go to him exclusively. He's not settling for step-back jumpers. He's battling LaMarcus Aldridge one-on-one, toe-to-toe and taking him to the rack. And it's paying off handsomely at the free throw line where Nowitzki is near perfect.

"I was real frustrated there for a minute," Nowitzki said. "But, hey, the fourth quarter, you’ve got to forget what happened the first three quarters and keep attacking. I made a strong move there right away and got two free throws right away at the start of the fourth, just like the first game. That always helps me get my rhythm."

In the two games, Nowitzki is 28-of-30 from the line. No player on either team has taken more than 12 free throws and he's the lone player on either team to attempt double-digit free throws in both games. In a head-to-head comparison of power forwards, Nowitzki has outscored Aldridge at the foul line 28-9 overall and 19-3 in the fourth quarter.

"Our main thing is trying to keep him off the free throw line," Blazers forward Gerald Wallace said. "It's tough when he's making shots and he's getting to the free throw line. Either or, you can't give up both."

While Nowitzki's overall shooting percentage is low, his fourth-quarter shooting has been mostly on-target. He's 6-of-11 from the floor and 1-of-1 from 3-point range. It was a clutch one from the corner that helped the Mavs pull away in Game 1. Mostly, Nowitzki has put his head down and gone to the basket.

It's a brand of toughness that Nowitzki doesn't always get credit for, but Carlisle said it's nothing new to him.

"I think he's one of the toughest guys I've ever been around, no question," Carlisle said. "I played several years with [Larry] Bird, [Kevin] McHale, [Robert] Parish, Dennis Johnson, those guys. He's right up there with those guys, what he's been able to do. You check his record his record in the playoffs, there aren't many guys in the history of the game that are up in that stratosphere of productivity, and games won."