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Sunday, January 29, 2012
Don't jump to conclusions about Dirk

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

Let me try to make this clear.

Again.

This is going to be the weirdest, wackiest, nonsensical NBA season we've ever seen thanks to the lockout and abbreviated training camps.

So you can't make grandiose proclamations about players or teams.

OK?

For example, what can we make of the Dallas Mavericks after they blew an 18-point third-quarter lead, rallied from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit and had a buzzer-beating jumper from the San Antonio Spurs overturned before prevailing in overtime?

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds in the Mavs' overtime win against the Spurs.

Mavs 101, Spurs 100.

Whew.

And they did it without much of a contribution from Dirk Nowitzki offensively in his first game back after a week-long break to improve his conditioning and strengthen his right knee.

Dirk, still wearing a royal blue sleeve on his right knee, needed 14 shots to score just 10 points.

Clearly, it's going to take a few games for him to find an offensive rhythm. Dirk also did not attempt a free throw, which has become a troubling trend.

No matter.

Dirk was still closer to the player we're used to seeing than the dude who had no lift on his jumper and couldn't get to the basket during the season's first 16 games.

He was clearly moving around the court better, and he had enough stamina to play 38 minutes. He also grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds.

"That was about two weeks worth before the break," Dirk said.

All of that is wonderful, but Dirk is a former league and NBA Finals MVP because he's one of the most unstoppable offensive players in the game.

He's a 7-footer with 3-point range and good enough handles to blow past defenders who crowd him and drive to the bucket. He also has a nasty mid-range game, especially when he gets the ball at the free throw line and can drive either direction.

And the one-legged fallaway is the most impossible shot to block since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook.

None of it worked Sunday night, and we shouldn't be surprised. Nor should we say he's over-the-hill. Or this is the beginning of the end. Or the Mavs have to find another go-to guy.

All of that is over-the-top, knee-jerk reaction. The way this league threw the season together, we don't know what we don't know.

Not yet. It's too early.

That's not an excuse for anything. It's reality.

Dirk didn't take his first shot until the final second of the first quarter, in part, because the Spurs didn't give Dirk much room to operate. With Roddy Beaubois at point guard, the Spurs went under the pick on the pick-and-roll, giving Roddy B. the open jumper.

Who wouldn't prefer to have Roddy B. shooting instead of Dirk?

Early in the fourth quarter as the Spurs were in the midst of the massive 40-15 run that gave them an 89-82 lead with 3:35 left, Dirk tried to take over.

He couldn't.

He missed from 15 feet and 11 feet as the Spurs surged ahead, grabbing a lead for the first time since the first quarter.

Dirk missed a 17-foot jumper with 2:47 left, and the Spurs leading by seven, but he never let the offensive issues affect the rest of his game. He grabbed five rebounds in the fourth quarter.

None more important than corralling Gary Neal's miss with eight seconds left. He pushed the ball and passed it to Jason Terry, who drilled the game-tying jumper with half a second left.

In overtime, Dirk added a couple of baskets. He also passed up a couple of good looks because his teammates had a better shot.

Dirk understands he doesn't have to take every big shot, whether it's an open look or not. On a team with proven NBA players such as Terry and Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, it's easy to let someone else play the hero at times.

And when you've won a ring, there's no need to prove anything. Winning is the only thing that matters.

"I was able to take a dribble or two dribbles and pull up for a jumper, which was non-existent before the break," Dirk said. "I'm going to be OK as my legs get stronger and my base gets stronger."

In the meantime, we just have to realize it's way too early in the season to make declarative statements about Dirk's game.

A few months from now, all of the answers will be revealed.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.