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Brothers in arms

Dirk, Nash take separate paths to carve stellar careers

Posted: Friday April 20, 2007 8:03PM; Updated: Saturday April 21, 2007 10:48AM
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Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki could finish 1-2 -- in either order -- for the MVP balloting. Nash is a two-time winner of the award.
Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki could finish 1-2 -- in either order -- for the MVP balloting. Nash is a two-time winner of the award.
Robert Beck/SI
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For a magazine story on Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, I recently spent time around both the Mavs and the Suns. Much of what I learned was to be expected. Nowitzki, for example, is such a gym rat that Avery Johnson has to threaten him with $1,000 fines so he doesn't come to the arena on off-days (says Nowitzki, "I pay a lot of fines"). On the Suns, Leandro Barbosa models himself after Nash to the point where he regularly takes home DVDs of his teammate ("I watch the DVD and then I watch again," says Barbosa, "to be more like Steve.").

There were, however, some surprises. One of the questions I asked of the Mavs and Suns players was which of the two -- Nash or Nowitzki -- they would choose to build a team around. The expected, and safe answer, is to praise one's teammate (as Devin Harris of the Mavs did, saying: "How do you not choose a seven-footer with an unstoppable fadeaway?"). Then there's the route chosen by Amare Stoudemire, the Suns center. Asked who he'd pick between the two, Stoudemire said: "Shaq."

Told this wasn't an option, Stoudemire then brought up Kobe Bryant. "Don't forget Kobe," said Stoudemire. "In the MVP talk, remember that Steve has three All-Stars and Dirk has two. Kobe has none."

Ignoring for a moment Stoudemire's curious math (apparently, Steve and Dirk count as All-Stars but Kobe does not), it is interesting that Stoudemire made an effort not to say Nash, the man some would argue is responsible for much of Stoudemire's success. Especially right before the playoffs are to begin, when chemistry is paramount. (Told of the comment, one member of the Suns said, "What do you expect from a guy who chooses a jersey number of one?").

For perspective, Stoudemire did answer this question a few weeks ago, when the Suns were in the midst of a swoon. Still, diplomacy is clearly not his strong suit (apparently, there is no D in STAT, some would argue in more ways than one).

Other observations about the two MVP front-runners as we head into the playoffs:

Despite Nash's success against the Mavericks, some Dallas players believe the make-him-shoot strategy is still the wisest. "He's just going to pass the ball," says Jerry Stackhouse. "He feels like if he's getting thirty points, it's almost too much. He's going to force passes, to the point where he can be baited into having a big turnover game just because he's going to pass the ball."

Nowitzki is figuring out how to lead. More than one Dallas player mentioned Nowitzki's penchant for yelling at teammates, something he used to do when he felt they weren't playing up to his standards. Now he's dialed that back. "He's a much better leader now," says Jason Terry. "In times of adversity, he picks guys up, whereas in the past he may have berated a teammate or really got on them and shown them up."

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