The Dallas Mavericks, for the 16th or 17th straight season or so, happily entered 2016-17 with Dirk Nowitzki as its best player. Sadly, it hasn’t gotten the winless Mavs very far through the first week and a half of the season, and it appears as if the club’s prospects are only going to get worse.
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The 38-year old future Hall of Famer will miss “at least” a week, according to longtime Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, as Dirk deals with ongoing Achilles tendon pain in his right leg. You know – the one he shoots those legendary one-footed jumpers off of.
Nowitzki sat out the final half of Friday night’s Mavericks loss to Portland. Meeting with reporters after the game, via ESPN’s Tim McMahon, he discussed his current vexation:
“It gets better on days off, and as soon as I go out there and try to push off, try to show on pick-and-rolls, run backwards, all that stuff is just uncomfortable and sore,” Nowitzki told reporters. “So just thought I’d just shut it down. I mean, it makes no sense to keep dragging this for weeks, you know? Obviously, it hasn’t really gotten better, so we’re going to take a few days off and not get on the court, not do all the stuff that makes it sore. And hopefully, I’ll be better in a couple days and we can ramp it back up.
“But for now, that’s where we’re at. It just hasn’t gotten to the point where I can move well, where I can move pain-free, so it just doesn’t make any sense to be out there.”
“I don’t think it’s anything major,” he said. “The Achilles is inflamed. We tried a bunch of stuff. I’ve been getting treatment for hours every day. My guy from Germany is even here and been treating me every day for over two hours. I’ve been on the meds and nothing has really made it better to the point where I can move without it bothering me.”
Friday’s 105-95 loss was a winnable game for Dallas, who entered halftime down just three points in spite of Dirk registering just five points on 2-7 shooting through 16 minutes. Dirk, who has already missed two games this season due to illness, is averaging 12 points and 6.7 rebounds on 35.9 percent shooting from the field. The 7-footer, a career 47.4 percent shooter, has shot under 45 percent just once since his rookie season.
Which was in 1999.
Dirk Nowitzki is tied with Vince Carter as the NBA’s longest-tenured player, as the league’s rich cadre of 1990s-era players took a hit to the bow over the offseason with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Elton Brand all retiring in the months leading up to 2016-17. Through little fault of the legendary Carter’s own, though, Dirk’s postseason and international workload far outpaced VC’s, as Nowitzki has worked over 53,200 career regular and postseason minutes, alongside regular appearances with Germany’s national team.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, as has been his custom since his team’s 2011 NBA title, was sanguine in response:
“He’s going to be out for a while,” Carlisle said. “We’ll update (things) in about seven days. He didn’t reinjure the Achilles, it’s just lingering. It’s not getting better the way it needs to, so we got to shut him down.
“Is it bad news, yes. But we’ll get through it. His health is the most important thing. He’s more than willing to continue playing, but it’s pretty obvious that things just aren’t right. We’ve got to do the right thing here and get it fixed.”
“We’re having struggles,” Carlisle said. “When you’re down some guys and guys are banged up, this is what happens. Every day is a circle-the-wagons day. Our guys, categorically, are fighters. And we’ll fight our way out of this.”
Big man Dwight Powell started the second half of the loss to Portland in Dirk’s absence, registering four points, five rebounds, a block and an assist in over ten minutes of action as Dallas went to a super-small lineup featuring Harrison Barnes taking over for Nowitzki at the power forward slot, alongside Jose Juan Barea, Deron Williams, Powell (center Andrew Bogut missed the game for personal reasons), and the similarly-pained Wesley Matthews.
Barnes was underwhelming, contributing six points and two rebounds in the second half against Portland’s lengthy and wiry defenders. The offseason’s signee’s infamous struggles from the exhibition season haven’t carried over into games that count, he’s averaging over 18 points and six rebounds in 36 minutes a night for his new team, making nearly half his shots along the way, but clearly it hasn’t been enough with Dirk mostly out and/or struggling, and Wesley Matthews’ knee woes leaving him at an icy 30 percent on the season thus far.
A .500 record was enough for a playoff berth in the Western Conference last season, but a mark like that may not be enough this season with young hopefuls like Utah, Denver, Minnesota and even the Lakers looking to make things interesting, with holdovers like Memphis and the Rockets elbowing to stay in the bracket.
An ohfer five hole to start the season seems rather manageable considering the 77 games that are left to play, starting against Milwaukee (the city that drafted Nowitzki all the way back in 1998) on Sunday, but the Mavs have hardly looked like the sort of team that can pull off a 41-36 run at this point.
Luckily, within the most optimistic of time frames, the Mavs have just three games in that seven-day spell: Milwaukee, the Warriors and Lakers await. Following that, though, the Mavs jet to New York on Nov. 14, they’ll play Boston two nights later before moving all the way back home to Dallas to take on Memphis prior to moving back to Orlando to play against the Magic on Nov. 19.
That’s a hellacious travel schedule with or without Dirk Nowitzki, only to be topped by games in San Antonio, at home against the Clippers, and in Cleveland to follow on Nov. 25. Contests against the hopefully-reborn Pelicans and Spurs will end November.
This could be the month that dooms the 2016-17 Dallas Mavericks.
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