NBA News & Notes (cont.)
The other time Dirk Nowitzki made more than half of his attempts from the field, he shot 50.2 percent and finished as league MVP in 2006-07. The early signs in Dallas right now are almost as promising: Nowitzki is a scorching 55.3 percent and the 16-4 Mavericks have won nine in a row to challenge the 17-3 Spurs for the league's hottest start.
Dallas ranks No. 2 in field-goal defense, thanks to the arrival of hyperactive center Tyson Chandler, whose movement and energetic signal-calling from the back have bonded the Mavs at that end of the floor. The Mavs should grow even stronger with the anticipated return of 6-foot guard Rodrigue Beaubois, who will give them a driver to exploit the spaces created by Nowitzki and the other Mavs' shooters.
"Roddy is a big factor for us, but we've got to keep doing what we're doing," said Nowitzki. "I really like how we compete, and if we keep defending we're going to give ourselves a chance to compete every night. We've got to keep on working to get Roddy healthy, because sometimes we get stagnant and predictable, but with his game being so all over the place he can give us explosiveness offensively."
The Mavericks are seeking their 11th-straight season of 50-plus wins around Nowitzki, which is a remarkable streak considering all of the roster changes that have been made around him. Dallas has presented a variety of approaches and yet has always remained in contention. "I think we all agree letting Steve p[Nash] go in [as a free agent in 2004] was a mistake," said Nowitzki. "[Stuff]happens in this league that sometimes you can't take back. We basically didn't give Steve a contract because we thought he was going to break down, and he hasn't broken down yet and he's 37. So I think we all agree that we made a mistake there.
"Other than that it's just trying to improve the team every year. One year we're right there, and then we're struggling for a bit; then we got Jason Kidd and he's a great influence for us. Now we've got Tyson. Just trying to find a way to get back to the Finals, that's our big goal."
At 32, Nowitzki has shown a stubbornness and toughness that wasn't often acknowledged early in his career, when he was known as a finesse shooter who created mismatches on the perimeter. He is favored to make the All-NBA teams for the 11th straight year and he has never missed more than five games in any season.
"I'll be proud of myself when my career is over,'' he said. "Right now I'm still chasing my dream, so I'm not slowing down or thinking about anything. I want to get my goal. I don't want to retire not having a ring, so that's my focus in basketball. If that means I don't play in the summer [for Germany] to keep my energy high, then that's what I've got to do. But for at least four more years I want to leave it out there like I always have and we'll see how far we can go."
There was no finer gentleman in the NBA than Phil Jasner, the excellent Philadelphia writer who passed away Friday. I never remember seeing Phil in foul temper, even while he spent 11 years covering Allen Iverson. When others would respond with anger or argument, Phil's response, sooner or later, was to smile. Sometimes the smile was thin, because there is only so much anyone, even Phil, can take, but he wore a smile all the same. His perspective on what was important and what was unimportant in the NBA defined Phil Jasner, and in this era of bluster and kneejerk reaction we have lost a giant among us. He loved the game, and yet he cared more for so many people around the game. He wrote many fine words and yet it says everything about a man who spent his entire career in print that I remember his stubborn, optimistic, ingratiating smile most of all.
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