The one-legged fadeaway that Kevin Durant admittedly stole is also back in the playoffs after carrying Nowitzki the last few thousand points to the top 10 on the NBA’s scoring list.
The 7-foot German - relatively new dad and old hand at this postseason thing after missing last year for the first time since 2000 - is just happy to be back in what he calls the “big dance,” a little phrase he stole himself.
“How big our shot is, we’ll see,” said Nowitzki, whose eighth-seeded Mavericks open the playoffs Sunday at San Antonio, the defending Western Conference champion that finished with the league’s best record. “But we have a shot. It’s better than being ninth, so we’re going to go for it.”
The 35-year-old Nowitzki started his 16th season not really knowing where his future Hall of Fame career was headed. He was coming off the first knee surgery of his career, a setback that had a lot to do with Dallas‘ 12-year playoff streak ending.
He also had new priorities after his daughter was born last summer, keeping him in Dallas and away from family in his native country longer than usual during the offseason.
Nowitzki figured he could be the same player, and everybody around him said he was.
Sure enough, his scoring average went up for the first time in five years, and the rest of his numbers looked a lot like they did in 2010-11, when the Mavericks won the franchise’s only championship. Nowitzki credited an intense summer of working out to stay in shape.
“The thing that you don’t know fully is the load he carries for this franchise,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a mammoth load not only in scoring but the leadership aspect of it, how he changes games for other players. And the seriousness with which he takes responsibility for winning and losing.”
The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff game since beating Miami in Game 6 of the NBA Finals three years ago, and they might have the same dubious distinction in a little more than a week because they’ve lost nine straight to the Spurs.
The “underdog” tag puts Nowitzki in the strange position of having something and nothing to prove all at the same time.
He has a title, and yet another productive season pushed him past seven players on the career scoring list, starting with Jerry West and finishing at No. 10 after supplanting Oscar Robertson.
“He’s so incredibly competitive,” Nelson said. “He’s like the great ones, man. He’s got that spirit that the Staubachs and the Nolan Ryans and the Mike Modanos and the Troy Aikmans and those kinds of guys have.”
In other words, Nelson places him among the biggest names in Dallas‘ football-leaning sports history. And since Nowitzki’s contract is up after his 13th trip to the playoffs is over, owner Mark Cuban has to decide how much life is left in those legs.