The Dallas Mavericks have a lot of things going for them -- depth at every position, strong team defense, an experienced group of professionals -- but their most valuable asset is indisputably Dirk Nowitzki.
Thursday night against Phoenix, Nowitzki didn't touch the ball after the 5:53 mark. The Mavericks essentially played a Dirk-less fourth quarter in a very tight game they should have won.
Nowitzki's elbow has been bothering him since it collided with Carl Landry's dental portfolio in December, and he took a spill early in the game that might have exacerbated his discomfort. It also could've been one of the reasons Nowitzki ceased to be a focal point, or even a reference point, of the Dallas offense.
Should Dirk have been more assertive? Should the Mavericks' guards have been more attentive to getting Dirk touches? Was his ailing elbow the main issue?
Whatever the case, Dallas never deployed Nowitzki to challenge the Suns' 29th-ranked defense and instead opted for a series of low-percentage and awkward shot attempts. All the while, Nowitzki drifted around the periphery of the floor.