- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dirk Nowitzki is too mentally timid to lead the Mavericks to the NBA championship.

At least that is the conventional wisdom of those who chronicle the goings-on of the NBA.

That, too, was said to be part of the motivation behind the Jason Kidd trade.

No one questions Kidd’s toughness, not even his ex-wife.

Yet the rap against Nowitzki is off base, if not steeped in a trace of cultural bias.

We all have a tendency to get more behind our homegrown products than those being exported from overseas.

That flag-waving proclivity is understandable, so long as it does not skew the basic facts.

And the basic playoff facts regarding Nowitzki are hardly incriminating.

It is true that Nowitzki and the Mavericks endured an inexcusable flame-out against Golden State in the first round of the playoffs last spring.

It also is true that Nowitzki suffered through an abysmal six games against the Warriors, mostly because coach Don Nelson ran three defenders at him much of the time and the rest of the Mavericks were ill-equipped to adjust their shoot-first, shoot-second mind-set.

The Mavericks have been a reluctantly dominant team in recent seasons.

They are not a pretty team to watch, at least not in the manner they were with Steve Nash controlling the flow of a game.

Now they are mostly a half-court team that runs a series of isolation plays, with Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse or Nowitzki free to attack the opposition’s defense in whatever manner possible.

This often results in bouts of tedium, scoreless stretches and the incapacity of one player to lift up his teammates. The Mavericks have been five players working as five, not one, and it is that reality that subverted their cause in the NBA Finals in 2006 and in the playoffs last season.

The addition of Kidd could change that inclination to a degree, although there probably is not much that could change Stackhouse at this point in his career. And the 30-year-old Terry also is well into his career.

Nowitzki is far more gifted than anyone else on his team, although he sometimes goes through a game as if he is the accidental option.

Is that a reflection of his nature, or is that merely the way those around him choose to play the game?

The latter is difficult to dismiss, if you have followed the black-hole habits of Stackhouse, Terry and the departed Devin Harris over the years.

Equally hard to dismiss is Nowitzki’s compelling performances in the playoffs.

Before Dwyane Wade shot a zillion free throws and the Heat rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals two years ago, it was Nowitzki who buried both the Spurs and the Suns.

And it is Nowitzki who has compiled a favorable postseason portfolio in seven playoff appearances. He has averaged 25.2 points and 11.1 rebounds in 82 playoff games, hardly the numbers of someone melting under the bright lights.

Those numbers are compatible with those registered by recent great but championship-less stalwarts: Charles Barkley, 23.0 and 12.9; Patrick Ewing, 20.2 and 10.3; and Karl Malone, 24.7 and 10.7.

It is fair to note that all three players kept advancing to the playoffs on the downside of their careers, and their numbers plummeted accordingly, while the 29-year-old Nowitzki has not reached that stage of his career yet.

It is not unusual for American basketball pontificators to question the intestinal fortitude of the NBA’s imports. Yao Ming has experienced Nowitzki-like skepticism, to the point of absurdity, almost as if he bows to opponents before dunking on their heads.

These doubts are amusing, considering America’s well-documented struggles in international competition.

Lithuania may be a small country of 50 people, but somehow or another it always gives the U.S. team fits because of its team chemistry and style of play.

The Mavericks have been a chemistry-challenged bunch because of their lack of a vaguely traditional point guard.

No 7-footer could address that need.

That now is up to Kidd, and Nowitzki figures to benefit the most from the exchange.


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