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Monday, April 19, 2010
Updated: April 20, 3:15 PM ET
Nowitzki resides in elite company

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki's display of remarkable scoring efficiency during Sunday's playoff opener added to a case that he'd rather not make.

He's one of the best postseason performers in NBA history who doesn't own a championship ring.

Nowitzki's playoff production places him among the all-time elite. He's one of five players with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, joining Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit and Shaquille O'Neal.

That doesn't ease the disappointment of failing so far in his chase for a championship. Nowitzki's name belongs with Charles Barkley and Karl Malone in conversations about the best power forwards in the modern era who never participated in a championship parade.

"That's great company, first of all," said Nowitzki, whose career postseason statistics (25.6 points and 11.0 rebounds) are significantly better than his Hall of Fame-caliber regular-season numbers. "But I still think I've got a couple good years left -- three, four, maybe five -- that I can go for it.

"Ultimately, I'm going to leave it all out there every single year. If I look back on my career, I'm going to say I did my part, I tried, I went for it every single time and I've got no regrets. If it works, that'll be great. If not, maybe it wasn't meant to be."

A parade was planned in downtown Dallas in June 2006 after the Mavericks opened the Finals with a pair of convincing wins over the Miami Heat. Then the Mavericks didn't win another game in the series, thanks in large part to Dwyane Wade (and, as owner Mark Cuban and thousands of Mavs fans have pointed out repeatedly, some controversial officiating).

The Mavs' playoff failure the next spring, after a 67-win regular season, did significant damage to Dirk's reputation. He had the worst series of his career against the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who dismissed Dallas in six games.

But it's foolish to argue that Nowitzki doesn't possess the will or fortitude to lead a team to a title. He's a 7-footer with a finesse game, but he's had far too many clutch moments to simply rule out the possibility of Nowitzki's earning a ring with a strong supporting cast, which the Dallas brass has put in place this season.

"All the things he does are incredible," four-time champion San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said before Nowitzki riddled the Spurs for 36 points on 12-of-14 shooting Sunday night. "He's got a passion. He's got a hunger. He's aggressive. He's got it all."

You certainly shouldn't hear anybody else in San Antonio questioning Dirk's playoff chops. His 37-point, 15-rebound effort in Game 7 against the Spurs in the 2006 Western Conference semifinals, highlighted by an and-1 drive to force overtime, ranks as the most memorable playoff performance in Mavs history. (Right above his 50-point night in Game 5 against the Suns the next series.)

And Dirk proved his toughness against the Spurs when he was a peach-fuzzed lad in his first playoffs. The outmatched Mavs lost the series, but Dirk made sure they didn't go down in a sweep. Nowitzki, suffering from food poisoning, needed two IVs to play in Game 4 at Reunion Arena. Then he took an elbow from Terry Porter, knocking out his front tooth with a little less than five minutes remaining. After missing 33 seconds to stop the bleeding, Nowitzki snatched a rebound his first possession back on the floor and scored the final four points to seal the victory.

If I look back on my career, I'm going to say I did my part, I tried, I went for it every single time and I've got no regrets. If it works, that'll be great. If not, maybe it wasn't meant to be.

-- Dirk Nowitzki, on his quest for a ring

"What a gutsy guy," then-Mavs coach Don Nelson said after Dirk's 30-point, nine-rebound performance.

It was the next season when Nowitzki eliminated any doubt in the Dallas decision-makers' minds that he was special. They knew they'd found the foundation of the franchise after watching Nowitzki average 33.3 points and 15.7 rebounds in a first-round sweep of Kevin Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves.

"We knew he was good," Cuban said. "It was just a question of how far could he take it, how high could he go. You always ask that question with any rising star. We found out how good he could be, and it was an MVP level."

It's an all-time-great level. The only remaining question for Nowitzki: Can he accomplish his ultimate goal?

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.