Not only are the Dallas Mavericks on pace to win 50 games again, nailing that mark for 11th time in 13 years, but Dirk Nowitzki is having a fantastic comeback season after two years in the wilderness. Dirk, who will turn 36 in June, is putting up per minute numbers comparable to what he produced during his team’s 2010-11 championship run, he’s threatening to become part of the 50 (percent from the field), 40 (percent from behind the three-point arc) and 90 (percent from the free throw stripe) club, and his astounding-for-any-age efficiency is the biggest reason why the Mavericks have been working with a top five offense for most of the season.
His fabulous season was on full display last Wednesday in Utah, as Dirk managed 31 points against the Jazz on just 14 shots from the field with eight rebounds in the win. After three days “off” Nowitzki slumped a bit in comparison during a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday – scoring 17 points but only pulling in four rebounds all night.
But, hey, the Mavs won, right? NBD, MFFL?
Apparently not. Rankled at what he thought was lethargic play from his longtime superstar, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban both privately and publically challenged Nowitzki to amp up his effort level, prior to Monday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. From Dwain Price at the Star-Telegram:
“I think sometimes he loses concentration, and I think we’ve got to get past that,” Cuban said. “I mentioned it to him today. I asked him how his nap was during the game [Sunday at Oklahoma City]. He laughed. At least that’s while I was facing him. When I turned my back and walked away, I don’t know.”
Asked why he was publicly challenging Nowitzki, Cuban said: “That’s only because I did it already personally.”
“Dirk always goes through a little slump during the year where he needs to re-motivate. And I think we’ve seen that for a couple of games, and I think he’s going to come back stronger, particularly after three days and those naps he’s gotten through the last couple of games.”
And how exactly did the future Hall of Famer fare after Cuban called him out? Not entirely well, as Nowitzki managed to miss 11 of 17 shots as Dallas eked out a five-point win over a not-so-great Boston Celtics team.
Mark Cuban has owned the Mavericks since January of 2000, and Dirk Nowitzki has been with the team since January of 1999, following the protracted 1998 NBA lockout. The two know and understand each other in ways that none of us will ever understand, and even if Cuban is being a little tempestuous with the player he’s paying over $22.7 million this year to, it’s probably a good time to get that out of the way now.
The Mavs are in the middle of an eight game homestand, that three-day “break” (using quotation marks to highlight the fact that NBA teams are really never off on days between games) after the Utah win likely soothed their veteran limbs, and even if Nowitzki really stunk the bed on Monday night, the Mavericks could still have gotten away with a win against the lowly Celtics. Even though Dirk did miss all those shots, he still finished with 19 points, though Cuban probably would still like more than the six boards that Dirk pulled down.
Half of Dallas’ remaining 14 games are against playoff teams, with four contests either coming against teams the franchise is battling for playoffs seeds (Memphis, Golden State, Phoenix) or against the team the Mavs are scheduled to take on in the first round (Oklahoma City). The whole point of 2013-14 for Dallas (a team that is attempting to clear roster space to make a dent in the free agent pool this summer) was to return to the playoffs and see what a mastermind coach like Rick Carlisle can do with various talented and cerebral parts in a seven game series.
Those parts have to have an edge to them, though, or they’ll be quickly outpaced by the sort of highly-seeded team that we’d consider a championship contender. Mark Cuban knows this, which is why he went after Dirk, claiming that he’s “allowed to call him out once every 10 years.”
Of course, Dirk Nowitzki knows this too, it’s just that Cuban thought he needed to be reminded. How this plays out, and if the back and forth will have any impact, is up for the NBA spring to decide.
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