Dallas Mavericks: Steve Nash

One-on-one with Dirk: Life after playing

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
10:00
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 Dirk Nowitzki Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki says he could see himself being a personal coach, like his mentor, Holger Geschwindner.

ESPN Dallas recently held court with Dirk Nowitzki. In this series, Nowitzki shares thoughts about his past, present and future.

While there's still expected to be at least a few years left in his career, Dirk Nowitzki has begun to consider what the next stage of his life will bring. While he isn't exactly sure what he'll do when he decides that he can no longer play basketball, he understands it will be hard to hang up his sneakers.

"Basketball has given me so much over my career that I'm sure that I can't just walk away and never do anything with basketball for the rest of my life," Nowitzki said. "That's just not going to happen. It's been my life all the way until I got married and had a kid. It was definitely the biggest thing in my life."

Maybe he has a life in front of the camera.

Former teammate Steve Nash ran a series of documentaries for Grantland titled "The Finish Line." As part of the series, Nash reconnected with Nowitzki near the end of this season, and they reflected on their past as former teammates. Over the years Nowitzki has noticed that Nash has done quite a bit with his own production company. Nowitzki joked that Nash could help him once basketball is over.

"I always told Nash that he's got to get me a job once I'm done," Nowitzki said with a laugh.

Realistically, it wouldn't surprise anyone if Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wanted Nowitzki to stay with the organization in some capacity. We've already seen that former Mavs great player/_/id/242/michael-finley">Michael Finley is a fixture around the team and front office. Cuban already has mentioned it's possible someone such as Jason Terry could return to the organization once he retires.

While something like that always is going to be on the table, Nowitkzi knows he doesn’t have to make a decision now. The biggest thing for him is ensuring that the game he loves remains fun. For him, as long as he's playing and having fun, he still has time to contemplate what his future holds.

One intriguing thought for him is the possibility of coaching.

"Some of the stuff Holger has done with me, I'd love to keep that going," Nowitzki said of his mentor and personal coach, Holger Geschwindner. "Holger mentioned it to me before, 'What you have learned from me, I want you to give to someone else someday.' Maybe I'll do that a little bit later -- individual coaching."

While coaching could theoretically be in his future, Nowitzki doesn't figure to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Jason Kidd, now coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

"I don't think I'll ever be a team coach," Nowitzki said. "I saw with J-Kidd how he's interested in plays and thinking ahead. That doesn't interest me. I don't care how you get me the ball. Just get the ball to me.

"Plays and stuff like that never interested me. It was just the skill level that interested me. I'm sure if I'm a coach one day I'll do what Holger did for me, or what coach [Tim] Grugrich did here for us in the championship year, where you take the younger guys and work out every night. We'll just have to wait and see."

Grugrich was instrumental in aiding the Mavs en route to their title during the 2010-11 season. Known as something of a basketball guru, Cuban hired Grugrich to be an assistant/consultant for the team.

It's becoming a very common trend in today's NBA to have individual coaches work with star players. Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade has Tim Grover. And Kobe Bryant at one time had Mike Procopio, who now works as a director of player development for the Mavs.

In addition, centers or low-post players now request to spend time with Hakeem Olajuwon during the summer so he can help work on their game. If Olajuwon can work with the low-post players, it's not out of the realm to see Nowitzki working with the shooters for the next generation.

Nowitzki is known as a gym rat, spending late nights on the court getting up shots or early mornings to do the same thing. Encouraging younger players to take time for extra shots and teaching what Geschwindner taught him could be the perfect transition for Nowitzki when the time comes for him to move to the next stage of his life.

As scouts and general managers travel the world to find the next Dirk to take care of their needs on the court, it wouldn't hurt to have the real Dirk there to guide some of those newcomers through the rigors of the NBA.
Nowitzki, Terry, HowardGetty ImagesThe Mavs' trio with the most playoff wins: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard with 28.
Tim Duncan has earned the right to be recognized as the premier power forward in NBA history, but he’s also had the good fortune of being flanked by a couple of fellow future Hall of Famers for most of his career.

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Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker made NBA history with the Spurs’ Game 1 win over the Thunder in the West finals Monday night. It was their 110th playoff win together, matching the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper for the most ever by a trio.

When Dirk Nowitzki’s career is done, he might wonder what would have been if he’d enjoyed such continuity with co-stars.

Nowitzki’s tenure as part of a big three was too brief, broken up by the time he was 26 because Mavericks management believed that Steve Nash was too brittle to reward with a big contract. Nowitzki, Nash and Michael Finley restored respectability to the franchise, but that trio won only 18 playoff games together.

The Mavs’ trio with the most playoff wins: Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard with 28. That’s followed by Nowitzki, Terry and the immortal Erick Dampier with 25, and Nowitzki, Terry and Jason Kidd with 24.

Dirk goes down Mavs-Spurs memory lane

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
2:45
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Tim Duncan, Dirk NowitzkiAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThis marks the sixth time that Dirk Nowitzki has faced off against the Spurs in a playoff series.
DALLAS -- They meet again.

This will make a half-dozen times Dirk Nowitzki has seen the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. He’s felt some agony and some ecstasy in the previous five series against the Mavericks’ Interstate 35 rival, a four-time title-winning franchise that served as a roadblock on Dallas’ route through the West for years.

They are unforgettable highs and lows from those series from the Spurs, memories that are engrained in the minds of Mavs fans, as well as the face of the franchise.

This is how Nowitzki remembers those Mavs-Spurs series, as shared with ESPNDallas.com a day before he departs to start another series in San Antonio:

2001
Series: West semifinals
Outcome: Spurs in five
Nowitzki’s numbers: 23.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 44.6 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “We had no chance.

“We had just beaten Utah in the first round after being down 0-2. I remember when [Karl] Malone missed that last shot in Game 5, we were running around on the court like we won the championship. I mean, it was insane. I was lapping around the arena like twice. It was insane. So just for us to beat those guys, that’s how much respect we had for Utah and Malone and [John] Stockton.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan
Tom Hauck/AllsportDirk Nowitzki says the Mavs had no chance against Tim Duncan and the Spurs in their 2001 series.
“Then it was hard. It was for a young team to turn around and play against those machines. [Tim] Duncan was obviously so good back in those days, so we really had no shot.

“We lost the first two down there. I remember we went straight from Utah to San Antonio for the first one. It was pretty much over with. The second one, we were kind of around, but not really. And if you want to make a series of it, you’ve got to win Game 3. I remember I was sick. I had food poisoning that game, and then we’re down 0-3. That was basically it.

“We played hard in Game 4 and were able to steal one. The game we stole here, I came back in [after getting a tooth knocked out by a Terry Porter elbow] and we won the game. Then in Game 5, they were just so good defensively. Whatever we tried, they had counters. They were long in there with those two 7-footers. I mean, they were good.”

2003
Series: West finals
Outcome: Spurs in six
Nowitzki’s numbers: 25.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 43.1 FG% in three games

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “I remember we stole Game 1, which was amazing. We were 49-of-50 from the free throw line. That was an amazing, amazing game for us. Game 2, we lost and then here in Game 3 is a big game. Obviously, you want to hold home court, and that’s the game I got hurt.

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“It was tough. I wanted to play and I was testing [his sprained knee]. It felt OK with the adrenaline going.

“But looking back on my career now, it probably was the right decision. Nellie didn’t want me to play. I was young at the time. At this stage of my career, it probably would have made sense to play. I’m old, but then, even I felt it sometimes getting up in timeouts and stuff. It just wasn’t right, just didn’t feel right. Probably looking back on it now, it was the right decision, but it was tough.

“We go down there [for Game 5] and we’re thinking they might close us out. We steal that game. It’s 3-2 and we have a chance here to force Game 7. We were up [13] in the fourth.

“Nellie played small ball. We played Walt Williams at the 4 and just spread it out and let Nick [Van Exel] and Steve [Nash] drive, and it worked great. Then they subbed in Steve Kerr and he made like three or four 3s in that fourth quarter. They came back, and that was that.

“I don’t know, I might have tried to play in Game 7. You never know, but that was disappointing.”

2006
Series: West semifinals
Outcome: Mavs in seven
Nowitzki’s numbers: 27.1 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 52.7 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “Maybe the best over the course of seven games, the best series I’ve had in my career.

“Just felt locked in, felt in my prime and felt whatever coverage they’re doing, I can score on it. That’s how confident I was. What a great series.

“We win both home games here and went up 3-1, but that’s just how good they are. They just keep coming. They win down there and it’s 3-2. We try to close out here, and they just keep coming. They make it 3-3. Jet [Jason Terry] was suspended for one of those games for a little [groin] clip, so that was tough.

[+] EnlargeNowitzki
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki called his overtime-forcing and-1 in Game 7 of the 2006 West semifinals one of the biggest plays of his career.
“Then we go down there for Game 7 and it’s one of the greatest games I remember. We were rolling early. We were up 20 in the first half. Just everything goes -- Josh [Howard], Jet, Devin [Harris] driving, I was shooting it -- so it was great. Avery [Johnson] was like, ‘Hey, those boys are going to keep playing.’ Sure enough, it was almost methodically. They always come back. They get stops, the keep grinding and next thing you know ...

“I always remember Jet leaving Ginobili on the wing when Duncan was posting up on me, and he pulled the trigger. I looked when it was in the air -- boom! Bottoms! The place went absolutely nuts.

“Down three and I remember we had [32.9 seconds left], and I was thinking we were kind of in a similar situation in Game 6. We were down three and I shot a bad 3. I was thinking to myself and Avery even said it: ‘In this situation, don’t hoist a bad 3. Make sure you get to the basket. Anything can happen.’

“So I just spun and put my head down on [Bruce] Bowen and said, ‘I’m going to lay this in.’ We can foul again and at least extend the game. And Ginobili just left [Jerry Stackhouse] in the corner and came over and wanted to block it. I was able to kind of luckily muscle it over a little bit. It hit the rim and bounced in. That was probably one of the biggest plays of my career. Made the free throw.

“I don’t think I scored again in overtime. [He actually hit two free throws to put the Mavs up eight with 9.9 seconds left, giving him 37 points for the game.] The boys were great. We subbed in Gana [Diop] and he made some big stops on Duncan. He had one or two big offensive rebounds. Stack made two pull-ups, I remember.

“Yeah, that was a fun game, fun series for me. I mean, to win a Game 7 in that building is about as sweet as it gets in this league.”

2009
Series: West first round
Outcome: Mavs in five
Nowitzki’s numbers: 19.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .493 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “Ginobili was hurt and they really never had enough weapons to beat us that year. I don’t think they had enough weapons without him.

“We tried to take Duncan and [Tony] Parker out as much as we could, and it worked really well. With them without Ginobili, it made it a little easier.”

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Mavs were the No. 2 seed in 2010 but fell to the No. 7 Spurs.
2010
Series: West first round
Outcome: Spurs in six
Nowitzki’s numbers: 26.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 54.7 FG%

Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “It was a little messed up, because we’d just traded for Caron [Butler] and DeShawn [Stevenson] and [Brendan] Haywood and we were actually the No. 2 seed. They played without Ginobili most of the season, and right at the right time he gets healthy. They’re the 7 seed, we’re the 2 seed.

“That’s obviously a tough matchup for any 2 seed, to run into the Spurs healthy at the right time.

“We made some mistakes, but they were good. They were healthy at the right time.

“We wanted to win and force it here and at least force it to a Game 7. I remember we were so good on the road after we traded for these guys, and we just needed to win one road game. We lost all three games down there and that ultimately sealed it. They stole Game 2 up here and we figured we’ve got three chances to steal a game down there, because we’re pretty good on the road. They won all three down there, and that’s what ultimately lost us that series.”

Dinner with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:54
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Former teammates Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash reminisce about the time they had together on the Dallas Mavericks, speculate about what would have happened if they had stayed teammates, and talk about the times they’ve played against each other.

More from Grantland.

Dirk: I'm rooting for Steve Nash

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
2:56
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Steve Nash and Dirk NowitzkiJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsIt's been hard for Dirk Nowitzki to watch Steve Nash struggle with injuries from afar.

LOS ANGELES -- The Mavericks front office’s fears for Steve Nash finally came true eight seasons, two MVPs and one franchise later.

The point guard’s body has broken down.

After a tremendously successful stint with the Phoenix Suns that followed his Dallas departure, Nash’s two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers have been extremely difficult. Injuries have limited the future Hall of Famer to 63 games, including only 13 this season as he dealt with nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. Nash plans to play Friday night against the Mavs before probably shutting it down for the rest of the season and focusing on preparing for his 19th year in the NBA.

It’s been a hard thing for his best friend in the NBA to watch from afar.

“Well, he’s 40, so that doesn’t help,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who dined with Nash on Wednesday night. “But I mean, if he still loves to compete and thinks that he can get his body to a place where he can still compete at a high level, then I’m happy for him. It’s tough. You rehab a lot and then you play in a game. Next thing you know, you have some setbacks and then you’ve got to start all over again with the rehab.

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3 Points: Best teammate Dirk has ever had?

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
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ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

1. Who is the best teammate Dirk Nowitzki has ever had?

[+] EnlargeDallas Mavericks
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCount Steve Nash and Michael Finley among Dirk's best teammates.
Gutierrez: The hodgepodge of players such as Michael Finley, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, O.J. Mayo, Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler leaves a very mixed bag to select from. It also shines a light on the fact Nowitzki has had to carry the load in Dallas without legitimate, surefire star support. It comes down to Steve Nash, before the point guard hit his MVP stride, and Jason Kidd, returning after he had passed his prime. Nash was the perfect teammate for Nowitzki earlier in his career, and Kidd was just as perfect later in Nowitzki’s career. I’m going to go with Kidd. While Nash could shoot the lights out, Kidd had the better all-around game out of the two point guards. As Nash helped Nowitzki grow as a player, Kidd helped guide him to immortality as a champion.

Taylor: Jason Terry has to be the best teammate Dirk has had because he usually played his best in the biggest games and he had no fear. The two-man game between Jet and Dirk was as nasty as it gets, and their feel for each other was uncanny. The Mavs have one championship, and they wouldn't have it without Jet, which trumps any other argument you might make. Dirk was terrific in the NBA Finals, but Jet put on a show in Game 6 when it was really all on the line and Dirk was struggling.

MacMahon: Finley and Nash are the only players to make multiple All-Star appearances as Nowitzki’s teammates, with two selections apiece. Of course, Nash’s career peaked after returning to Phoenix, winning the MVP the next two seasons. He still had four fantastic seasons when paired with Nowitzki after a slow start. Dirk got his ring, but it’s still hard not to wonder what might have been if Nash never left Dallas.

2. What was the biggest factor during the Mavs' winning streak?

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Gutierrez: The fact that they’re playing inferior competition is a big deal, but there are some positive trends in play, too. Nowitzki is shooting the lights out, everyone is getting accustomed to their roles and they’re avoiding catastrophic turnovers. To me, the biggest thing they’re doing is boxing out and grabbing rebounds. They’re 12-3 when they outrebound their opponent this season. There is a dramatic difference in their play when they’re active and finish off defensive possessions with a rebound. The chance to negate one, two or three-point swings going against them by collecting rebounds and getting out and running in transition is huge. Their team defense is still suspect, so any opportunity to prevent additional possessions by the opponent is huge. It looks like the Mavericks are getting the message that rebounding the ball is key to their success.

Taylor: The Mavericks have been one of the best offensive teams all season. When they've been able to put winning streaks together it's because their defense has been good. The problem, of course, is that with Jose Calderon, Ellis and Nowitzki as core players they can't sustain their defensive intensity. We saw that last night against Charlotte. They can be good for a few games, but asking them to be consistently good on defense is just not going to happen. Charlotte has scored more than 95 points twice in the last 17 games. Both times have come against the Mavs. If Dallas misses the playoffs it’s going to look back at all these losses to bad Eastern Conference teams and know exactly why they're at home.

MacMahon: The Mavs did a lot of things well during the streak, but all they really did was beat a bunch of teams that they should. The Grizzlies were the only foe of the five with a winning record, and they were missing point guard Mike Conley, who was a legitimate All-Star candidate. Other than that, the Mavs beat up on a bunch of bad teams. The other four opponents during the Mavs’ streak have a combined winning percentage of .351. They feasted during a stretch of schedule when they were supposed to get fat.

3. Has Samuel Dalembert earned trust with his recent performances?

[+] EnlargeSamuel Dalembert, Alexis Ajinca
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertSamuel Dalembert has played well of late, but can the Mavs count on him night in and night out?
Gutierrez: No. A run of consistency is great, but that doesn’t allow anyone to ignore the wave of inconsistency he showed over the first half of the season. His activity level is up by leaps and bounds as of late, but this has been his M.O. over the course of his career. Dalembert shows enough to tease a team or a GM and then quickly disappears. A couple of weeks of solid basketball by him doesn’t turn me into a quick believer. If anything, he’s shown me he can do it, so I need to see more of it before I catch Dalembert fever.

Taylor: Call me when Dalembert has played well for a month or his alarm clock works for 30 straight days. We know Dalembert is one of the keys to the Mavs, which is scary because he's as inconsistent as a player can be. I have zero faith he can play consistently well. The Mavs simply need to take advantage of it on the nights he does play well. Every starter in the NBA is capable of having stretches of quality play. Consistency is what separates the average from good and good from great.

MacMahon: Well, he sure flunked the Al Jefferson test. Dalembert was a nonfactor while the Bobcats big man dominated the Mavs, putting up 30 points on 14-of-23 shooting. If the Mavs are being honest, they’d admit that their hope for Dalembert is that he shows up most of the time. It’s almost miraculous that he strung together four straight good performances.

Mavs light it up, Monta Ellis in attack mode

November, 6, 2013
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DALLAS -- Maybe the Dallas Mavericks did actually sign a co-star for Dirk Nowitzki this summer.

No, they didn’t hook the “big fish” as advertised, the hope the Mavs’ brain trust sold when they made the CBA-influenced decision to strip down the 2011 championship roster instead of pay big money to keep a veteran cast together. Dallas didn’t even get a sit down with Chris Paul and got nothing but the proverbial participation ribbon for their efforts in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave the Mavericks found the right-hand man for Dirk Nowitzki's twilight years in Monta Ellis?
They settled for a marriage of convenience with Monta Ellis, a model of inefficiency with the Milwaukee Bucks the previous year and a half. He slipped through the cracks of free agency and signed a three-year, $25 million deal with Dallas.

If the early returns are any indication, Ellis’ contract could end up being the bargain of the summer.

With Ellis driving relentlessly and Dirk riding shotgun, the Mavs are off to a fantastic start after the first week of the season. Ellis’ dominant performance paced a 123-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, sending the Mavs on the road with a 3-1 record.

Ellis arrived in Dallas with the highest career scoring average (19.5 points per game) of any active player without an All-Star appearance. If he keeps this up, that might change at midseason, as will his reputation as a gunner who isn’t the kind of player who can be a key piece on a winning team.

All Ellis has done during his first week in Dallas is average 25 points -- tied for seventh in the league -- while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and dishing out five assists per night despite playing solely shooting guard. He blew by the Lakers’ lead-footed backcourt on a regular basis Tuesday, lighting up L.A. for 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting with nine assists -- a night so rare it hit a trio of certain statistical landmarks (points, assists, field-goal percentage) not reached in an NBA game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"He was in the guts of our defense all night," said Lakers point guard Steve Nash, one of Nowitzki’s favorite former sidekicks. "He was getting easy buckets and creating easy buckets for his teammates all night."

Perhaps Ellis is proving that the complementary pieces, not him, were the problem on his recent teams. After all, he did average 20.2 points and shoot 53.1 percent from the floor for a 48-win team as a 22-year-old, but those 2007-08 Golden State Warriors were the last plus-.500 team to employ Ellis. His efficiency plummeted in the six seasons since as he relied more and more on long jumpers.

The Mavs have convinced Ellis to use his inconsistent jumper as an off-speed pitch again. Playing in a pick-and-roll-intensive system that plays to Ellis' strengths and surrounds him with shooters, the Mavs are putting Ellis in position to be in attack mode.

"If anything, it made me the player I used to be," Ellis said. "Continue to attack. Don’t settle for the jump shot. At times I do, but coach keeps stressing attack, attack, attack. We’ve been doing that, and it worked for us tonight."

Seven of Ellis’ 11 buckets against the Lakers came on drives. When the defense collapsed, he kicked it out to a shooter for an open look or dumped it to a big man for an easy bucket.

Ellis’ ability to do damage off the dribble adds an element to the Mavs’ offense that’s been missing in recent seasons, arguably since Nash’s departure from Dallas a decade ago. Jason Terry served as a capable sidekick for Nowitzki during the Mavs’ best years, when the franchise made two Finals trips and won the 2011 title; but "Jet" was a jump-shooting assassin.

"He’s just a different kind of weapon," coach Rick Carlisle said of Ellis. "His catch-and-go ability, his speed in transition, his ability to change direction and attack the rim is unique in this league."

Carlisle put Ellis in an elite class of active players when it comes to those characteristics, naming Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook off the top of his head. There is no doubt that Ellis, as Dirk declared at the opening of training camp, is the most explosive teammate of Nowitzki’s career.

"He’s so fast to the rim that if the defense makes one little mistake in the pick-and-roll coverage, one fast dribble and he’s right up there at the rim," said Nowitzki, one of seven Mavs to score in double figures against the L.A. "It’s been impressive.

"Obviously, there are some players that are so fast getting to the rim that if they make their [jump] shot, they’re tough to guard. That’s the case with him.

"If that thing is going, he’s tough to stop."

So far, Ellis has been a phenomenal fit for a Dallas team that, frankly, didn’t have much interest in him at the beginning of free agency. Mavs owner Mark Cuban admitted recently that it "did take some warming up" from the analytics-savvy franchise once Ellis’ asking price dropped from eight figures per year into a more Mavs-friendly price range. And it took Devin Harris’ deal being voided due to a flunked physical for the Mavs to offer Ellis as much money as they did.

But the Dallas decision-makers talked themselves into believing Ellis would benefit greatly from playing for a creative coach and alongside a pass-first point guard (fellow free-agent addition Jose Calderon) and a historically elite power forward who would be the focal point for opposing defenses.

It’s hard to argue with the early returns. With Ellis putting up huge numbers and Nowitzki complementing him with 20.3 points per game, the Mavs rank second in the league in scoring (114.3), behind only the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It really starts with Dirk because defenses play him so differently and he spaces so well," Ellis said. "It’s hard for them to even stunt or try to do anything on the back side. We’ve got so many shooters on this team that can get it going any given night and make it tough on defenses."

That makes it easy for Ellis to get in the guts of the defense -- and that gives the Mavs hope they’ve found a suitable sidekick for Nowitzki’s golden years.

Calderon should make life easier for Dirk

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
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When speaking to ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s Galloway and Company back in late July, Mark Cuban vehemently denounced naysayers of Dirk Nowitzki who said that the Mavs forward's time as an elite player was done. The doubters have fuel based on the fact that Nowitzki had his lowest scoring average since his rookie season in 1998-99 and had to battle back from knee surgery.

"Knock on wood, if we stay healthy, I think people are just missing Dirk in ways they shouldn't," Cuban said in late July. "Like I've been telling him, Karl Malone won an MVP at 35, and there's no reason why he can't be considered in an MVP conversation at 35.”

An indirect way to ensure Nowitzki is cranking on cylinders is to have a John Stockton-like player. Enter Jose Calderon.

“He’s one of the best ball distributors in the game,” Cuban said of Calderon during the team’s introductory press conference last week. “He’s going to open up the court.”

The 31-year-old Calderon will be handed the keys to the flow offense. While he doesn’t carry a lot of playoff experience, he’s widely regarded as one of the most efficient point guards the league has, holding career averages of 10.1 points and 7.2 assists. He’s coming off a season where he split time between Toronto and Detroit and averaged 11.3 points, 7.1 assists and just 1.7 turnovers while shooting a league-best .461 percent from 3-point range.

Bringing an influx of basketball IQ to the roster with Calderon should make life easier for Nowitzki.

(Read full post)

Mavericks Rushmore: Dirk, Cuban, Rolando, JET

July, 6, 2013
7/06/13
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With the Dallas Mavericks winning their only championship just a few years ago, it should come as no surprise that three key components of that squad are featured in our Mavericks Rushmore. Here are the four we chose and why:

Dirk Nowitzki: The best player in franchise history and future Hall of Famer has spent his career in Dallas and become part of the fabric of the community. Rather than his face, Nowitzki's one-legged fadeaway should probably be on Mavericks Rushmore. Nowitzki has defined the Mavericks since this century began, and he has his ring now, too.

Mark Cuban: When he bought the Mavericks, they had spent way too much time at or near the bottom of the NBA. Cuban immediately changed that by pumping resources into the team. He has shown a willingness to do whatever he can to make his team a championship contender and put Dallas in the category of the elite. Cuban's goal now, after two disappointing seasons, is to return the Mavs to elite status.

Rolando Blackman: When you think of the 1980s Mavericks, Blackman is one of the first names that comes to mind. He played in Dallas from 1981 to 1992, was an All-Star four times and played on six Mavericks playoff teams.

Jason Terry: If you take Terry's entire stay in Dallas, it's actually a full season longer than Jason Kidd's two stints. Terry appeared in two NBA Finals and was critical in the club's championship run in 2011. That's why he's got a spot on this monument.

Others considered (in no particular order):

Jason Kidd: A case could certainly be made after he spent the beginning and much of the end of his career in Dallas. The trade to bring him back to Big D was a difference-maker, as the point guard made the right moves in pressure situations to help the Mavericks win the title. He is moving from a 19-year playing career into coaching with the Brooklyn Nets.

Don Carter: He founded the expansion Mavericks with Norm Sonju in 1980.

Derek Harper: He made a Western Conference finals appearance with the Mavericks, and the team's record books are littered with his name. He and Blackman helped excite fans in the 1980s.

Brad Davis: His No. 15 jersey is retired, but his numbers don't stack up with other Maverick greats to push him into the top four.

Steve Nash: Had Nash stayed in Dallas, maybe he would be on the monument. But he wasn't here long enough and left before the title run.

Michael Finley: You could make the argument that outside of Nowitzki, Finley was the most important player in getting the Mavericks back to respectability in the NBA after Cuban bought the team.

Mark Aguirre: He was the first overall pick in the 1981 NBA draft when the Mavs were struggling. Later in the decade, Aguirre was a leader on a team that took the Lakers to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
As far as Mark Cuban is concerned, the Dallas Mavericks’ silence about their meeting with Dwight Howard is simply smart business.

The Mavs’ silence isn’t just by design in this instance. It’s team policy.

PODCAST
ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.

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“This is always our approach,” Cuban said Thursday in an email to ESPNDallas.com. “We never talk about what we do. We don't test the waters in the media. We don't troll on twitter.

“The approach I learned from Donnie [Nelson] is that more teams will talk to you and be more open with you when they know they won't read about it. Same with players.

“The two things I hate the most are leaks to the media and the wave.”

Officials, players and others from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers have commented publicly about their meetings with the free-agent All-Star center.

The moment that the free agency period officially began a minute after midnight Eastern Monday, Houston general manager Daryl Morey created a "#dwighttohouston" Twitter hashtag and requested that Rockets fans send messages to Howard’s account. After the Rockets’ meeting with Howard ended hours later, Morey tweeted about Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler telling Howard how he could form the “next gr8 big/wing combo” with James Harden. Many details of those closed-door sessions with Howard and his representatives have been leaked to the media.

The Houston Chronicle quoted anonymous Rockets representatives and reported intricate details of the team’s presentation, such as video visits from former Houston centers Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo and pushing the marketing potential of playing for a franchise with great popularity in China.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak released a statement after L.A.’s meeting with Howard, while point guard Steve Nash talked to reporters on his way out of the building. ESPNLosAngeles.com and other media outlets, citing sources, have reported specific details about Howard’s conversations with Nash and Kobe Bryant during the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Mavs’ only comment thus far about their meeting -– on or off-the-record -- was the usually outspoken Cuban mumbling, “It was fun,” when encountered by ESPN’s Shelley Smith and camera crew on the way out of Tuesday’s meeting with Howard. Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki, part of the Mavs’ six-man recruiting contingent, joked that he wasn’t in the meeting when asked for comment.

Cuban had been upfront about the Mavs’ plan to pitch prospective free agents, particularly Howard, on a two-year plan to rebuild a championship contender. It’s been widely known that the Mavs would sell the franchise’s championship pedigree and the ability to add more talent next summer, when Nowitzki’s contract expires and he intends to re-sign for a drastically reduced salary.

The details of the Mavs’ pitch to Howard, however, have successfully been kept a secret. That could be appealing to a superstar whose dirty laundry was aired publicly during the latter stages of his tenure with the Orlando Magic, most memorably when then-coach Stan Van Gundy told the media after a shootaround that Howard went to the front office in an attempt to get him fired. The ensuing group interview of Howard, who was unaware of Van Gundy’s revelation moments earlier, was off-the-charts awkward.

Cuban, Nowitzki, president of basketball operations Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle headlined the Mavs’ recruiting contingent. They were joined by Dallas athletic trainer Casey Smith, who has a relationship with Howard from their time together with Team USA, and director of analytics Roland Beech.

The only reason Smith and Beech are known to have participated in the meeting is because they were filmed by the ESPN camera crew leaving with the rest of the Mavs’ representatives. If Cuban had his way, their presence wouldn’t even be public knowledge.

Dirk Isn't Done: Guards, depth would help

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
11:30
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As Dirk Nowitzki heads into his 16th season, he's coming off his lowest points per game average since his first full year, saw a dip in rebounding and health is now becoming a factor. ESPNDallas.com will explain five reasons why it’s too soon to say Dirk’s demise as an elite player has arrived.

What always seems to happen when two teams are playing? It seems like it comes down to execution at the end. Teams have to rely on their top option in the clutch.

PODCAST
Galloway & Company discuss Chris Paul's situation with the Clippers. Paul is unhappy being linked to the firing of his former coach. Could he join the Mavericks?

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Nowitzki averaged 2.9 points in the last five minutes of games when the Mavericks were ahead or behind by five points or less, which ranked 12th in the NBA last season among players in that situation at least 25 times.

And only Chris Paul had a higher field goal percentage (49.2 percent) than Nowitzki (47.5 percent) among players who averaged at least 4.0 minutes and 2.0 field goal attempts in that situation.

If Nowitzki was such a beast in the clutch, why were the Mavs nothing more than a mediocre team?

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki has been a beast in clutch situations, but the Mavs didn't use him properly last season.
The answer: The Mavericks didn’t use Dirk properly. There is an advanced statistic known as “usage percentage” that shows the percentage of team plays used by a specific player while he was on the floor.

During the four years leading up to the 2012-13 season, Nowitzki’s usage percentage rate in the fourth quarter never ranked below 13th in the entire league. He had two seasons, 2009-10 and 2011-12, where his usage percentage ranking was inside the top 10 at 29.6 and 31.9, respectively.

His usage percentage last season ranked as 21st in the league at 27.6. During the championship season, Dirk had a percentage of 29.3 in the fourth quarter, ranking 13th in the league. There are two clear reasons to see why the usage percentages are lower in those two seasons but have two very different results.

“We’ve been spoiled with Jason Kidd and Stevie Nash before,” Donnie Nelson said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s Galloway & Company as the season came to a close. “I think the quarterback position is just a really, really important one. I’d say that that’s up there.

“That’s no disrespect for anyone. Darren Collison did a terrific job with a tough situation, and we’d certainly be open to the conversation of him coming back, but (upgrading point guard) has got to be in my mind first and foremost.”

Dallas and Nowitzki’s success have been tied to the point guard position. At the very least, the Mavs need to secure a point guard who can deliver the ball where it needs to go.

The collective success has also been linked to quality depth. During the championship year, the Mavericks had multiple weapons that could do multiple things and they had specialists that could be depended on.

Yes, Nowitzki's knee injury got in the way of his productivity, but the flawed roster also got in the way of the team’s success, as well as his. Nowitzki is a once in a lifetime player, but he still needs help around him.

Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.
ESPNDallas.com will compare the Mavericks, Lakers and Rockets in five facets -- other than money -- that could play a role in Dwight Howard's free agency decision in a one-per-day series: owners/front office, coaches, co-stars, supporting casts and franchise tradition. We focused on Chris Paul last week.

The Lakers and Mavericks are in similar situations when it comes to their supporting casts: They have to sell hope.

PODCAST
Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the officiating in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers' chances at beating Miami, the conspiracy theories surrounding the NBA and Mark Cuban's new two-year plan.

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They can both make a pitch about being competitive next season with a veteran core surrounding Dwight Howard, although that didn’t work in Los Angeles last season and the Mavs would need to do some relatively significant salary-cap tinkering to keep both Shawn Marion and Vince Carter while creating room to give Howard a max contract.

What about the future?

Like the Mavs, a lot of money comes off the Lakers’ books next summer. Steve Nash, whose physical breakdown finally happened almost a decade after leaving Dallas, is the lone Laker under contract for the 2014-15 season. The Mavs only have option years for last season’s rookies on their 2014-15 ledger.

You can make a strong case that L.A. would be a more attractive destination for free agents than Dallas, but there’s one major wild card. Would Kobe Bryant, the league’s highest-paid player, be willing to take the major pay cut to give the Lakers the flexibility required to make significant additions to a Dwight/Kobe core? Dirk Nowitzki’s willingness to slash his salary will be part of the Mavs’ pitch.

The Rockets have the advantage of already having a potential long-term supporting cast in place. They might have to slice into that cast a bit to make room for Howard, but they have young building blocks such as Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley under contract at bargain rates for at least two more seasons.

Parsons, the second-round steal who averaged 15.5 points in his second season, could be a phenomenal complementary piece for Howard and James Harden for years to come. The multi-skilled 6-foot-9 small forward’s perimeter shooting makes him a perfect fit for the Rockets’ system and accentuates the offensive strengths of the potential Houston co-stars.

A commitment from Houston ownership to keep Parsons when his contract expires after the 2014-15 season could go a long way.

EDGE: Rockets
For the Mavericks to make the Chris Paul/Dwight Howard combo pipedream a reality, they’d have to hire a hypnotist.

How else would they be able to convince Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to agree to a sign-and-trade deal that would ship Howard to Dallas for a couple of veterans with expiring contracts and spare parts?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Howard forces the Lakers’ hand by saying that he’s leaving Los Angeles, no matter what. If the Lakers don’t agree to the sign-and-trade that would allow Howard to join Paul in Dallas – for the sake of argument, we’re making the huge assumption that Mark Cuban and Co. have successfully recruited CP3 – the big man will just sign with Houston or Atlanta.

Better for the Lakers to get something for Howard instead of letting him leave for nothing, right? Not really.

Let’s be real. If Howard leaves while Kobe Bryant is in the early stages of his comeback from a torn Achilles tendon, the Lakers have no chance to win a championship next season.

That wouldn’t change if they accepted a sign-and-trade deal that sent every player on the Mavs’ roster not named Nowitzki to Los Angeles. All that would do is prevent the Lakers from avoiding a massive luxury tax bill.

If the Lakers added Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Mavs filler to a roster that features rehabbing Kobe, ancient Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, they’d be fighting just for a shot to sneak into the playoffs again while paying a luxury-tax bill in the neighborhood of $28 million, assuming they’d use the amnesty clause on Metta World Peace.

What about that would possibly appeal to L.A.?

If Howard leaves, the Lakers might as well unofficially tank the season. They could avoid the luxury tax altogether by using the amnesty clause on Gasol. Kobe could take his sweet time with his comeback.

In this scenario, the Lakers could be looking at a high lottery pick in a loaded 2014 draft, when they’ll also have a ton of cap space. Why would they want to end up with a middle-of-the-road pick after putting together a mediocre team with a nine-figure price tag?

Perhaps you could argue that the biggest obstacle blocking the Mavs from acquiring a CP3/D12 duo is the Lakers agreeing on a sign-and-trade deal.

You could also argue that the only hurdle between the Mavs from acquiring LeBron James is the Miami Heat agreeing on a trade. That doesn’t make it a legitimate possibility.

Mavs' top priority: Upgrade point guard

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
11:59
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The Mavericks will explore all potential avenues of improving the talent on their roster, but upgrading at point guard is the top priority.

While Darren Collison confidently declared Thursday that he believes he could start for any team in the league, the Dallas decision-makers clearly don’t share that opinion. After all, they opted to start Derek Fisher and Mike James over Collison in a season that president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson described as a “point guard odyssey.”

PODCAST
Donnie Nelson joins Chuck Cooperstein and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Mavericks' season and the importance of this summer.

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The Mavs might welcome Collison back as a backup, depending on the price. They’ll search this summer for a long-term starting solution at a spot that coach Rick Carlisle calls “the most important position in the league.”

“We’ve been spoiled with Jason Kidd and Stevie Nash before,” Nelson said during a Thursday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3’s Galloway and Company. “I think the quarterback position is just a really, really important one. I’d say that that’s up there.

“That’s no disrespect for anyone. Darren Collison did a terrific job with a tough situation, and we’d certainly be open to the conversation of him coming back, but (upgrading point guard) has got to be in my mind first and foremost.”

The pie-in-the-sky scenario: Sign Chris Paul. Of course, the odds of him ditching a talented, young Clippers team to come to Dallas to play with a mid-30s core are awfully slim. As Mark Cuban recently said, he’ll be rooting for teams with free agents the Mavs might target to lose early in the playoffs. Would Paul consider leaving the Clippers if they flame out in the first round?

PODCAST
Rick Carlisle joins Chuck Cooperstein and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Mavericks' disappointing season and what needs to happen for them to get back to the playoffs.

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Paul will be the perfect fit, but the Mavs must be prepared to find their point guard of the future somewhere else. They might be able to draft next season’s backup with the 13th overall pick, assuming they don’t get amazing lottery luck, but a team determined to drastically improve its basketball IQ isn’t going to hand the reins to a rookie to run the show for 30-plus minutes a night.

It’s time for the Mavs to find a proven veteran point guard to fill Kidd’s shoes.

“I don’t know exactly what style, but the guy’s going to have to be able to score,” Carlisle said on Galloway and Company. “The guy’s going to have to be able to come off screens and hit shots, because when you’re come off screens from Dirk, you’re going to be open because of the way guys play him.”

A quick look at some of the other potential long-term upgrades available in free agency:

Jose Calderon: The Mavs have been involved in trade discussions about Calderon, as recently as midseason, when he got dealt from Toronto to Detroit in the three-way Rudy Gay deal. Calderon, who turns 32 in September, is a pass-first point guard who is a very efficient offensive player. He has career averages of 7.2 assists and 1.7 turnovers per game and is an excellent shooter (.483 FG, .399 3s, .877 FT). His flaws: He doesn’t penetrate well and is a poor defender, especially against speedy point guards.

Monta Ellis: The 27-year-old is not really a point guard. He’s a scorer (career 19.4 ppg) who sometimes plays point guard. He’s dangerous off the dribble and trouble in transition, but Ellis jacks up a lot of long jumpers and doesn’t make very many. He attempted 328 3s this season despite hitting only 28.7 percent, the lowest of any player with at least 200 tries. The idea of Ellis running pick-and-pops with Dirk Nowitzki is intriguing, but can a guard who has never averaged more than six assists per game in a season be counted on to consistently deliver Dirk the ball in prime scoring situations? And Ellis doesn’t exactly have a great defensive rep, either, despite his high steals totals.

Jarrett Jack: Jack, who turns 30 in October, is coming off his best season, averaging 12.9 points and 5.6 assists as the sixth man for a playoff team with Golden State. He’s an excellent midrange shooter and very effective hitting floaters off the dribble. He has a low turnover rate, the kind of strength and toughness Carlisle wants in a point guard and hit a lot of clutch shots for the Warriors this season. But Jack is really a combo guard who has never averaged more than 6.3 assists per season and struggles defensively against quick point guards. Like Kidd, he’s actually better defending shooting guards.

Brandon Jennings: Can the former lottery pick flourish under Carlisle’s coaching? Would it be worth offering enough to the restricted free agent for Milwaukee not to match? The 23-year-old Jennings, who has butted heads with his Bucks coaches, is on the record saying he’d love to play with Dirk and for Cuban and Carlisle in Dallas. His shooting percentage might soar in that situation, but the fact that it’s 39.4 percent for his career is a red flag. So is his slender frame (6-foot-1, 169 pounds). Oh, and so is the fact the Bucks have occasionally benched him during crunch time down the stretch this season. But Jennings (17.5 ppg, 6.5 apg this season) has shown enough flashes of brilliance to at least make him intriguing.

Jeff Teague: He’s a restricted free agent on a playoff team that has a ton of cap space, so the Mavs would have to overpay to get Teague. The four-year veteran is a quality young point guard, averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists this season, but it’s difficult to envision the Mavs throwing a ton of money at him.

Mo Williams: The 30-year-old Williams is best suited as a scoring sixth man, not a starting point guard. He’s a good spot-up 3-point shooter and knocks down a lot of midrange jumpers off pick-and-rolls, but he’s never been more than an average driver or distributor. Plus, Williams has major durability issues, having missed at least a dozen games in seven of the last eight seasons, including 36 with the Jazz last season, when he averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists.

There are, of course, other ways for the Mavs to acquire point guards. Hey, maybe Cuban can come up with some kind of multi-team deal that lands Rajon Rondo in Dallas.

A preseason guarantee that the Dallas Mavericks would be only a game and a half behind the Los Angeles Lakers when they left for this late-season trip to L.A. would have certainly pleased Dirk Nowitzki.

The Mavs’ superstar just didn’t imagine that scenario would play out like this.

PODCAST
Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Mavericks-Lakers game Tuesday night. If the Mavs lose, are their playoff hopes over?

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“I was hoping it would be for a number two or three seed, not for nine,” Nowitzki said with a sheepish grin. “Yeah, it’s been, I guess, a tough season for both teams.”

That’s an understatement. As Nowitzki noted, the Lakers’ cluster of stars (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol), have all dealt with significant injuries this season, with Kobe currently bothered by a bone spur in his foot and Nash doubtful to play against Dallas due to hamstring and hip issues. It’s also been a season-long soap opera in L.A., with the Kobe-Dwight dynamic as the main storyline with subplots such as firing the head coach after five games and snubbing the brother-in-law with 11 championship rings.

For the Mavs, it’s been more like a long series of Survivor, except the guys who get voted off the island keep getting replaced. Dallas has used 22 players – remember Eddy Curry playing a significant role in the season-opening win over the Lakers?! – and 22 starting lineups.

Oh, and Nowitzki missed three times as many games as he did in any of the previous 14 seasons of his Hall of Fame career and struggled mightily upon his return, the primary reason the Mavs are in the position of “trying to be the greatest comeback since Lazarus,” as coach Rick Carlisle says. (Or at least since the 1996-97 Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, the last two teams to make the playoffs after digging out of a 10-games-under-.500 hole.)

Call them excuses if you want, but there are legitimate reasons that two of the league’s proudest franchises have been reduced to fighting with the Utah Jazz for the West’s final playoff spot. Not that the rest of the NBA feels any sympathy for teams that have combined to win three of the last four titles.

The playoffs will go on without at least one of these teams. Maybe both.

If the Lakers miss the playoffs, they’d go down as one of the biggest disappointments in pro sports history. It’d be stunning to see such a star-studded roster flop for a franchise that has failed to qualify for the playoffs only twice since 1976, winning 10 titles in that span.

If the Mavs miss the playoffs, the league’s second longest postseason streak would be snapped at a dozen seasons. It’d mean the Mavs went from a championship parade to a lottery pick in a span of only two years.

Those would be miserable fates for two franchises that frankly have grown so accustomed to qualifying for the postseason that it feels more like a prerequisite than an accomplishment.

The ruthless competitors who serve as faces of their respective franchises aren’t going to go down without a fight. That makes Tuesday night’s matchups must-watch TV, must like their nationally televised duel the last time these teams met, when Kobe’s “Amnesty THAT” performance one-upped Dirk’s 30-point, 13-rebound outing.

“Hey, both [teams] have a lot of pride, a lot of fight in them,” said Nowitzki, who has led the Mavs to a 23-14 record since the season’s low point, including an 11-5 March. “It should be a fun matchup [Tuesday] night. It’s national TV. Staples Center. Jack Nicholson courtside. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Well, it’s been better. But it doesn’t get much more pressure packed.

The eighth-place Utah Jazz own the tiebreaker over both the Mavs and Lakers, so the loser of Tuesday night’s late TNT game is in huge trouble. That’s especially true if it’s the Mavs, who would need the Lakers and Jazz to choke down the stretch to have a chance.

“We’ve had must-win games since January,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “so this is nothing new for us.”

Missing the playoffs would be something new. The Mavs – and the Lakers, for that matter – are fighting to keep their flames from being extinguished.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9