- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
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 accepted.
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."
People say that they need a new point guard instead of Devin�Harris, but I don't think that's the issue. I think they need another half-court finisher up front to play in the low post, even if just for a few minutes a game--a mobile power forward who can play the high-low game with Dirk�Nowitzki and help steady their half-court offense. Right now they struggle in the half-court when they have to play there on a consistent basis. . . . I see Josh�Howard as a true star in the league who is going to keep improving. He plays both ends of the floor, he's hard to guard, and he can defend three and sometimes four positions. . . . Jerry�Stackhouse has at least one more really good year in him. He seems charged up to be in that organization--he even shared the ball a little bit, which shows that he's buying into what they're all about. . . . Trading for Trenton�Hassell was a good move; he'll help them more than Greg Buckner would have. And if Devean�George is healthy this year, that could be another area of improvement.