Nowitzki and his mates have a single goal: winning it all.
In each of Avery Johnson's two full seasons as coach, the Mavs have lowered the franchise record for points allowed. Last season Dallas gave up 92.8 points per game, after allowing 93.1 a year earlier.
Record: 67-15 (1st in West) Points scored: 100.0 (9th in NBA) Points allowed: 92.8 (4th) Coach: Avery Johnson (fourth season with Mavericks)
No more setbacks for this favorite, which finally will be the last one standing
After his team endured the worst meltdown in NBA playoff history, a
first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Warriors, Dirk Nowitzki needed to get far,
far away. So in May he took an unscheduled trip Down Under. For five weeks he
and his longtime coach and mentor, Holger Geschwindner, backpacked through
Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, taking in the sights, big and small. But there
was one thing that Nowitzki did not see: an entire NBA playoff game. "I saw one
half of one Finals game," he recalls. "I couldn't watch. Watching other teams in
the playoffs was frustrating to me."
Relaxed, refreshed and rededicated ("The trip really got me excited about
basketball again," he says), Nowitzki returned to Dallas prepared to make sure
that the Mavericks don't go under for a third straight year. In 2006 they blew a
2-0 lead over the Heat in the Finals, and last season -- after winning 67 games,
tied for the sixth highest total in league history -- they imploded against the
Warriors, with Nowitzki, the regular-season MVP, scoring just eight points in
the decisive Game 6.
For its part, the front office resisted the natural inclination to overhaul
the team, leaving the burden of delivering the franchise's first title on
Nowitzki's shoulders. In the off-season coach Avery Johnson told Nowitzki, 29,
that he needs to become a better passer, offensive rebounder and defender. And
although point guard Devin Harris was given a five-year contract extension in
September and Josh Howard continues to ascend the ranks of the league's elite
small forwards, it was Nowitzki whom Johnson asked to take on more of a
leadership role, a responsibility the laid-back German hasn't always fully
So will this finally be the year for the Mavs? "We have all the pieces we
need," Nowitzki says. "We believe we're good enough." -- Gene Menez