Casual fans who haven't caught many Dallas Mavericks games of late but tuned in for the team's nationally televised Tuesday night tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers might've immediately found themselves asking, "Dude, what the hell is going on with Dirk Nowitzki's beard?" You, fair BDL reader, were of course up to speed, having read in these very pages about the pact made by Nowitzki and his teammates a while back to grow and sport full beards until the Mavericks reached .500 on the season. News of the resolution reached the media in the first week of February, but Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter and then-teammate Dahntay Jones (who has since been traded to the Atlanta Hawks and shaved his beard) reportedly made their solemn vow a couple of weeks earlier with the team at seven games under par, which probably pegs the pact to the aftermath of a Jan. 25 loss to the San Antonio Spurs that dropped the Mavs to 18-25.
Since that time, Dallas has gotten into a nice little rhythm, going 17-11, winning four of their last five and nine of their last 12 after a thrilling 109-102 overtime victory over the Pacific Division-leading Clippers on Tuesday. The win brought the surging Mavs level with the Utah Jazz and within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference; it also improved Dallas' record to 35-36, just one game south of .500, meaning a shave could be in the offing after Thursday night's matchup with the Indiana Pacers.
And according to ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon, Mayo's bringing a special guest to the American Airlines Center to be prepared for the occasion:
Omar the barber is coming to Thursday night's home game against the Indiana Pacers.
"Man, everyone is going to have their clippers in their locker Thursday and hopefully you guys can watch us shave them off," said Mayo, who said he doesn't know his barber's last name. "The barber will be here. We're going to leave him tickets and give ourselves a chance to shave them off.
"I want to make sure to do it right. I don't want to leave no patches."
Glad to hear O.J.'s got the right idea, beard-wise — patchy facial hair is always a bad look. (Just ask Paul Pierce.) Under normal circumstances, you'd trust guys who have been capable of growing strong beards for quite a while to be able to nail down a smooth, complete shave on their own, but if the Mavs take out the Central Division-leading Pacers on Thursday to improve to 11-4 in March, you can understand a hirsute pro being so jittery and excited that he might miss a spot or two. Besides, hitting .500 for the first time since Dec. 12, 2012 seems like a perfect opportunity to celebrate and treat yourself to a little professional-grade pampering, courtesy of noted barber Omar No Last Name.
If indeed the Mavs do top the Pacers — who spanked the Nowitzki-less Mavs by 20 back in November — it likely means the end of the line for Dirk's beard, which shapes up as something of a tragedy, considering how amazingly rich and lush it has become.
Nowitzki's prodigious beard growth has caused many longtime Dirk observers to think back to his famed soul-searching summer-of-'07 trip through the Australian outback following the Mavs' first-round upset by the "We Believe" Golden State Warriors. We're not alone — the man himself says the only difference between this beard and that one has been some slight trimming of the mustache to keep it from hanging over his upper lip, which, as a fellow beardsman, I very much appreciate. (Getting mustache hair in your mouth is the pits.)
One other difference, as McMahon notes — Dirk wasn't married when he went bushwhacking:
Nowitzki said his wife of less than a year, Jessica, doesn't like the look but has been a good sport about it. Nowitzki's mother recently told him that he looks 45 years old.
"I don't really want to jinx it, but I'm ready to get this thing off," Nowitzki said.
He's certainly playing like it — since that Jan. 25 loss to the Spurs, Nowitzki has averaged just under 19 points, nine rebounds and 2 1/2 assists per game, hitting 50 percent of his field-goal attempts, 46 percent of his 3-point tries and 91 percent of his free throws. The shooting accuracy has been even sharper in the month of March — how does a 53/44/96 slash line grab you? — but as Kelly Dwyer noted Tuesday, he still hasn't really been taking a consistently Dirk-appropriate number of shots despite his sterling shooting. He got the rock plenty on Tuesday, though — especially late, as he scored 15 of his season-high 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime — hitting 12 of his 21 shots (just the third time this season he's shot more than 20 times) and going 9 for 10 from the foul line (just the second time he's made at least 10 trips to the stripe).
It was a sensational performance by a player who's finally getting back to the sensational form that's made him such an impossible cover during the Mavs' 2011 championship run, and whose return to brilliance (along with the tireless and imaginative scheming of coach Rick Carlisle) has helped Dallas rise back to the upper echelons of NBA offense — after a dismal December, the Mavericks have turned in the league's fifth-best offense in terms of points scored per possession since Jan. 1, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and have scored a scorching 109.2 points per 100 possessions in March, slotting them in behind only the surprising Portland Trail Blazers, streaking Miami Heat and rolling Houston Rockets in offensive efficiency this month. (And they've needed it, because their defense — problematic at best all year — has continued to lag, ranking 17th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession in March.)
Whether Dirk and company will be able to keep up their execution against the Pacers, who've been far and away the NBA's stingiest defensive unit this season, remains to be seen. But if they can, Omar's fixing to have quite a bit of work on his hands ... especially when it's the German's turn in the chair.
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