Thursday, February 9, 2012
Updated: February 10, 6:56 PM ET
Dirk Nowitzki extends All-Star streak
By Jeff Caplan
Dirk Nowitzki said his sluggish start wasn't deserving of an 11th consecutive All-Star selection. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and the majority of his Western Conference counterparts disagreed with the reigning Finals MVP.
Despite posting some of his lowest numbers since his rookie season while being hobbled by a sore right knee, Nowitzki was selected as one of seven reserves for the West squad and he will be the lone representative for the defending champs.
"I am really excited to make the All-Star Team this year," Nowitzki said. "It was a tough road back to full health for me, but I am honored that the coaches thought enough of me to make me an All-Star. It has been a privilege to represent the Mavericks organization over the last decade and I look forward to doing it again in Orlando."
The Mavs avoided the distinction of becoming the first reigning champion in NBA history not to be represented in the mid-season showcase. The first All-Star game was played in 1951 and no team without an All-Star selection has ever gone on to win the championship.
Head coaches picked seven reserves from their respective conferences. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and Portland Trailblazers forward and Dallas native LaMarcus Aldridge were selected as expected. Nowitzki nipped All-Star hopefuls Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay and Paul Millsap.
They'll join Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant and power dunker Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers. They won the fan vote and will start the Feb. 26 game in Orlando, likely the first of a long All-Star run as a starting tandem.
The remaining West reserves include three points guards, Phoenix's Steve Nash, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook and San Antonio's Tony Parker, plus Memphis center Marc Gasol.
Nowitzki's slow start that stemmed from a bothersome right knee clearly put his All-Star streak in jeopardy, but he said he was never concerned with it possibly coming to an end.
"If I make it, it's great and I'm going to have fun and obviously represent the Mavericks good like I always have," Nowitzki said Wednesday night after he scored a team-high 25 points against Denver to help end Dallas' three-game skid. "But if not, it's not the end of the world for me this year. I think for me it was such an uphill battle the last two months playing on swollen knees and stuff."
Nowitzki entered the season after a hastily scheduled and truncated training camp in pain. His bothersome right knee limited his ability to bend and get lift on his jump shot and diminished his confidence to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, a move that has become a mainstay in his arsenal.
Nowitzki missed four games in January to undergo something of a personal, eight-day training camp designed to strengthen his knee and his overall conditioning. He acknowledged that the long championship run followed by playing for Germany in the European championship over the summer and then the lockout-skewed offseason derailed his typical workout regimen.
The result was his lowest numbers since his rookie season, despite still being the Mavs' leading scorer all season. Nowitzki's average dipped to as low as 16.2 points a game with an overall shooting percentage around 43 percent and a shockingly low 3-point percentage that plunged into the high teens.
His low point came just a week ago on Feb. 1 against Oklahoma City when he finished 2-of-15 from the floor with eight points, his fourth consecutive game of scoring 12 points or less. Still, throughout that stretch, Nowitzki said his knee was getting stronger.
He's proven it over the past three games, showing vast improvement with an array of moves he wasn't making to that point. In the last three games he's averaged 26.3 points on 62.1 percent shooting. He had a team-high 25 points and nine rebounds at Denver to snap a three-game losing skid.
Afterward, Carlisle tipped his hand as to which way he likely voted on his ballot for the longtime face of the Mavs franchise.
"An All-Star performance, didn't you think?" Carlisle said. "He's getting back into a groove offensively and he's looking like his old self in terms of moving around on the court. So it's a lot of positives."
Nowitzki takes a hot streak that has pushed his season numbers to 17.6 points on 46.1 shooting to Minnesota on Friday night. The Timberwolves have won both meetings this season by a combined 32 points, with the second-time All-Star Love posting double-doubles in each game.
All-Star nod or not, Nowitzki is just pleased to have his game at All-Star quality with the second half of the season rapidly approaching and the Western Conference log-jammed with playoff hopefuls.
"I was telling the guys that I've actually got my confidence back and my ability to move,'' Nowitzki said. "I think that was the main thing. I was just having the ball and thinking about, 'Hey, I can't really do this move and I can't do that move.' And now I'm playing like I always have and that's taking what the defense gives me.
"Sometimes that might be a drive, a push-off, a spin, all of that has become a part of my game over the last five, six years, and I wasn't able to do that stuff, so that was very frustrating."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.