- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

Dirk Nowitzki has come to be the Mr. November of the NBA.

You do not want to face the gifted 7-footer in November, when any one game carries little significance and the atmosphere is much more temperate.

But you do not object to meeting him in late April or May, when the outcome of each playoff game can cripple a team and the tension can turn a player’s legs to rubber.

That is essentially what happened to Nowitzki and the Mavericks after they lost by 12 points at home in Game 1 of their series against the eighth-seeded Warriors.

They never quite found themselves after that initial smackdown.

Nowitzki was invisible on offense for long stretches of the series, to the point that he did not appear to labor all that diligently to get open to receive the ball.

And when he did get the ball and tried to generate offense, he often wound up taking ridiculously awkward, low-percentage shots, as if he merely wanted to get the ball out of his shaky hands.

It was an incredible sight — the potential MVP of the NBA performing so meekly and ineptly that it almost warranted pity.

There is a sentiment that Nowitzki fell prey to the mental hocus pocus of Warriors coach Don Nelson. If so — few of us in this business are board-certified psychologists — Nowitzki’s flameout is even more astounding.

It does not say much for Nowitzki’s head if an old coach once thought beyond his time seized it with some abracadabra stuff.

Nowitzki did not show up to the series — except briefly in the waning minutes of Game 5 — and that de-emphasized the rest of the elements of the series.

Point to a playoff team that could overcome the deadbeat status of its so-called superstar.

That team does not exist.

Nowitzki’s mental fortitude has been called into question in the past, notably in the NBA Finals last June, when Dwyane Wade was accorded endangered-species status by the officials.

Again, though, few of us in this racket are board-certified psychologists, although perhaps our profession is attracting a greater number of mental-health practitioners who moonlight as hacks. Who knows?

To say Nowitzki inevitably hyperventilates in the playoffs is a gross exaggeration but typical of a herd inclined to think in best/worst terms.

Nowitzki overwhelmed both the Spurs and Suns in the playoffs last spring and showed no hint of being Mr. November.

But now he is back to being Mr. November, and if he is tabbed the MVP of the NBA, he either should decline the award or accept it with a brown paper bag over his head. At least that kind of thinking has gained credence in the last few days.

Yet the NBA has a long history of superstars failing to perform at a high level in the playoffs and finishing their careers without a championship ring.

The latter is possibly Nowitzki’s destiny, which would put him in the company of Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and John Stockton, not bad company at all.

As abominable as Nowitzki was against the Warriors, his futility was no more pronounced than Tracy McGrady’s against the Jazz.

And McGrady’s playoff past is far more stark than Nowitzki’s.

McGrady is now 0-6 in the first round of the playoffs after 10 seasons in the NBA, a stunning record of futility.

McGrady was considered one of the top five players in the NBA before coming down with a temperamental back in recent seasons. Yet, unlike Nowitzki, he never has been accused of shirking his postseason responsibilities.

That is because Nowitzki is judged at a higher standard than McGrady, as well he should be after tormenting both the Spurs and Suns last spring and leading the Mavericks to 67 wins this season.

That made his no-show against the Warriors all the more incriminating.

At 28, Nowitzki is running out of prime-performance seasons.

In fact, you could argue he has squandered his best championship opportunity.

It is doubtful he ever will head into the postseason again as the lead player of a 67-win team that never had to win a game on the road to be champions.

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