The Dallas Mavericks found a way to win their latest game even with an under-the-weather Dirk Nowitzki struggling offensively. When they’ve faced the Phoenix Suns in recent years, getting a big performance out of Nowitzki hasn’t been a problem.
Coming off one of his least productive games of the season, Nowitzki will look to continue his personal dominance of the Suns on Friday night when the Mavericks kick off a three-game road trip.
Nowitzki is the fifth-leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 25.7 points as the Mavericks (22-13) have rebounded from a 2-7 start to win 20 of their past 26 games.
They’d won four of five heading into a game against the New York Knicks on Thursday, and Nowitzki was leading the way as usual by averaging 29.3 points in his last four contests.
Playing with a temperature of 101 degrees on Thursday, though, Nowitzki couldn’t find his touch against the Knicks. He went 3-of-13 for 10 points, but Josh Howard led six Mavericks in double figures as Dallas bounced back from a sluggish first half to win 99-94.
“When it was winning time, I didn’t have a great rhythm shooting the ball,” Nowitzki said. “I was able to get some assists when they double-teamed me.”
The Suns (19-13) can only hope that Nowitzki’s shooting struggles extend to the Mavericks’ first trip to U.S. Airways Center this season. Nowitzki had 39 points and nine rebounds as Dallas beat Phoenix 112-97 on Dec. 4.
That performance, though, wasn’t the first time Nowitzki had tormented the Suns recently. He’s averaging 34.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last four meetings with Phoenix, and he’s had 30 points or more in seven of the last nine games in the series.
The Suns were the victims of a big game from another forward their last time out. Indiana’s Danny Granger had 37 points in Phoenix on Wednesday, the last of which came on a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Pacers a 113-110 victory.
“We haven’t had much luck with last-second shots, game-winners, walk-off game-winners this year,” coach Terry Porter said. “We seem to be snake-bitten.”
The last time the Suns were victimized by a buzzer-beater came on Christmas Day, when San Antonio hit a 3-pointer as time expired to beat Phoenix by a point. That was just one of five games the Suns have played since Dec. 20, a stretch of 19 days.
Starting with the Mavericks’ visit, they’ll play seven games in the next 11 days.
“Having so many games off—not practices, but games—it’s hard to get into a game rhythm,” forward Amare Stoudemire said. “We’re going to practice, watch some film and get ready for the Mavericks.”
Stoudemire leads the Suns with 21.8 points per game, but he might have to do even more than usual if Shaquille O’Neal can’t play on Friday. O’Neal, who’s sat out some back-to-back situations to avoid fatigue this season, missed Wednesday’s game with back spasms.
O’Neal is listed as day-to-day, and if he can’t go, Robin Lopez will start in his place. Lopez has struggled, compiling more fouls (42) than rebounds (40) in his rookie season, so reserve Louis Amundson may see extended minutes as well.
Like Nowitzki, former Maverick Steve Nash played in his team’s latest game despite feeling ill shortly before the game. Nash, whose flu-like symptoms aren’t expected to keep him out Friday, is averaging 22.6 points and 13.0 assists in his last seven games against Dallas.
The Suns and Mavericks split two meetings in Phoenix last season.