Mavs’ Dirk adds more savvy to his game



100, Thunder 86

Make no mistake, while Jason Kidd is assuredly one of the

most magnificent facilitators the NBA has ever known, this game and

this Dallas team belongs to Dirk Nowitzki. However, in his 12th NBA

season, Nowitzki conducts his on-court business in a vastly

different fashion than he used to do.

Whereas he once ran through a ball game like his pants were

on fire, jumped to touch the moon, looked to dunk on every drive

and dribbled freely from end-to-end, his game has slowed


Against the Thunder, only two of his 18 shots were put up in

the shadow of the basket — a two-dribble lefty drive from the

foul line and a baseline-spin from the right box. His other 11

makes were assorted jumpers — two treys, plus a wide variety

of step-backs, turn-arounds, face-ups and catch-and-shoots. Instead

of speed, quickness and untamed talent, Nowitzki now relies on all

kinds of head-, ball- and/or shoulder-fakes to create optimal

angles for his various jumpers.

No more rash dashes and wild assaults on the rim. No more

forced shots and passing fancies. Instead of showcasing his game

from baseline to baseline, with the ball in hand, Nowitzki’s

sphere of influence now has a three-foot radius.

Once he was a play-buster, but as a wizened veteran, he

executes Rick Carlisle’s offensive to perfection. He’ll

set two screens, then use another screen to pop to the top for a

catch-and-shoot. He’ll also screen and fade, muscle for

position in the low post, come to the ball off a down-screen in the

lane and/or take full advantage of every forced switch with a


And when the Mavs absolutely need a score, Nowitzki will

work his way through several maneuvers and wind up with the ball in

a foul-line iso. From there, any attempt to double-team him is

extremely dangerous since he can make easy passes to open teammates

on either wing. But except for two or three sequences against the

Thunder’s rather lax defense, Nowitzki prefaced each shot

with some manner of convincing fake that not even the most

disciplined defender can resist.

Speed and youthful exuberance have been supplanted by

cunning and deceit. Through it all, though, his jump shooting

remains unerring.

It’s on the defensive end, however, in which

Nowitzki’s diminished quickness is most noticeable. On five

separate occasions, he was slow to make contact with his man as the

Thunder launched shots. This failure to box out enabled Oklahoma

City to score eight extra points. In addition, Nowitzki was slow

off his feet — of his 11 total rebounds, six were totally

uncontested, and only two were captured in the middle of a hostile


Notice, too, that his per-game rebound average has been

lower in each of the last five seasons.

Worse still, on a jump-ball versus Nenad Krstic, Nowitzki

remained floor-bound even as the Thunder’s center tipped the

ball to a white-jerseyed teammate.

At the same time, the experience he’s gained after

playing in 962 NBA games (counting both the regular season and the

playoffs) enable Nowitzki to anticipate instead of reacting on

defense — hence, his two steals and one blocked shot against

OKC. Aside from Nowitzki, Dallas doesn’t have any abundance

of players who can consistently create their own shots. Of the

starters, J. J. Berea is too short to be a reliable self-creator.

J-Kidd’s lost step has mostly reduced his offense to

three-balls. Shawn Marion’s individual moves are predictable.

Erick Dampier has no discernable moves.

Off the bench, Jason Terry is strictly a spot- and pull-up

shooter. Drew Gooden is ordinary. And Josh Howard is wild and

profoundly unreliable.

Except for Nowitzki’s iso — 14 of these in the

game at hand, good for 19 of his 35 total points — the

Mavs’ half-court offense mostly relies on high screens,

staggered screens, weak-side screens and handoffs to induce either

mismatches or missed defensive assignments. And this is where

J-Kidd excels. Indeed, the offensive sets tend to stagnate when

he’s taking a blow.

What else is new?

Finally, there’s a big D in Dallas. It was the

Mavs’ coordinated, quick-footed doubling of Kevin Durant

— and post-doubling recoveries — that ultimately won

the game.

And what’s old?

The fading memory of Nowitzki’s bogus MVP award in

2007 — an award announced even as the top-seeded Mavs were

upended by the bottom-seeded Warriors in the opening round of the

playoffs. A dreadful series wherein Nowitzki averaged a mere 19.7

points per game, shot 21.1 percent from downtown and 38.3 percent


However, unless the Mavs advance — at the very least

— to the conference finals, that memory will no doubt live


So, for the new Nowitzki and his rapidly aging Mav-mates,

this season could easily be their last chance for glory.


These guys are paid millions of dollars to play basketball

and they are, presumably, among the very best athletes in the

world. Yet their respective performances at the foul line are


Josh Boone – 30.0%

DeAndre Jordan – 34.6%

Kwame Brown – 41.5%

Hasheem Thabeet – 42.1%

Shaquille O’Neal – 45.1%

Chuck Hayes – 45.5%

Kyrylo Fesenko – 47.4%

Omri Casspi – 48.1%

Rajon Rondo – 52.1%

Lamar Odom – 53.5%

Ben Wallace – 53.7%

Dwight Howard – 58.4%

But there’s hope for all of them in a tried and true

technique that takes only about 10 minutes to master —

shooting free throws with a two-handed underhand motion.

Is it too old-fashioned for today’s flashy, hyped-up


Not any more old-fashioned than screen-and-rolls,

give-and-goes, back-door cuts, lob passes, boxing out and so on.

Would the players be too embarrassed to shoot this way?

Not any more embarrassed than missing a pair of free throws

and therefore, transforming a seemingly advantageous foul on the

defense into what is essentially a turnover.

Not any more embarrassed than not being permitted to touch

the ball, or even be forced to the bench, in clutch situations.

Rick Barry wasn’t at all embarrassed to shoot this way.

All he did was to lead the NBA in scoring (35.6 ppg in 1967), lead

Golden State to a championship (1975), make the All-NBA First Team

several times (1966-7, 1974-76), get voted into the Hall of Fame

(1987) and get named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA

History (1996). By the way, his lifetime mark at the stripe was

90.0 percent.

The point being that if shooting underhand free throws was

good enough for Barry, it should be good enough for Shaq, Howard,

et al.

In truth, shooting underhanded is comfortable, easily learned

and incredibly effective. The drop-and-flip shot release insures a

“soft” ball that turns virtually every near-miss into a


Within one week, each and every convert to this technique

would see his free-throw accuracy increase by at least 20 percent.



Can you honestly say that J.J. Redick has a higher

basketball IQ than Kobe?

Ronel Baldizon, Lake Forest, CA

Absolutely. And here’s why:

Kobe habitually makes bad decisions on defense — mostly

abandoning any personal responsibility for the player he’s

supposed to be guarding in order to follow the bouncing ball. This

frequently creates serious imbalances in the Lakers’ team

defense, resulting in open shots and in fouls on teammates who must

scramble to compensate for Kobe’s misadventures.

The easy points scored by opponents greatly outnumber

Kobe’s occasional steals and blocks.

On offense, Kobe is guilty of taking too many too-quick

perimeter shots, and conversely of disrupting the flow by massaging

the ball at inopportune times.

For sure, Kobe is the best player in the league, but

he’d be even better if he made a more sincere commitment to

the Lakers’ game plan.

Redick, on the other hand, is certainly not one of the

league’s best players. In fact, his relatively inferior

athleticism would ordinarily disqualify him from even being in the


Even so, Redick has become a valuable player on the basis of

two qualifications: His unerring jumper and his understanding of

the game.

Indeed, Redick’s apprenticeship lasted for three

seasons, during which he slowly but surely learned his lessons.

Watch both of these guys play. Notice how often Kobe’s

incredible skills overcome his mistakes.

Notice how Redick never tries to do something that he

can’t do well. And notice how rarely he makes errors of

position and timing.

This is certainly not to say that Redick is anywhere close to

Kobe in any other possible category. But sometimes intelligence is

just as vital as sheer will power.


While I can certainly understand Rick Adelman being upset at

the NBA’s “ridiculous” scheduling that has his

team playing four back-to-back dates in the next few weeks, I

don’t feel any sympathy for him.

That’s because the CBA often booked teams for three

games in three nights in three different cities. And most of those

trips involved two or three connecting flights.

In addition, coaches and players had to catch cheapo 6 a.m.

flights, undergo a long and tedious public check-in process,

squeeze into coach seats and eat fast-food airport meals on the


After reaching our destination, the home team would hopefully

have a van waiting that the coach (or rarely a resident team

flunky) would drive to the motel. About 25 percent of the time,

however, the promised vehicle would be missing and the visiting

coach would have to spend at least 30 minutes on the phone trying

to discover what was what. Then, upon arriving at our motel,

we’d usually lack the available site, the time and/or the

energy to have any kind of pre-game practice.

Since most CBA franchises were appropriately located in

minor-league towns, for our post-game meals we’d normally

have to settle for having pizzas delivered to our rooms.

And it was literally impossible to win 3-of-3 in these

back-to-back-to-back situations.

Compare these ordeals to the pampered way in which NBA teams


When on the road, they pack their luggage and leave it

outside their doors. The next time they see their various suitcases

and garment bags will be when they enter their hotel rooms in their

next destination. No schlepping, and no airport check-ins


Of course, all NBA teams charter jets that come and go at the

team’s convenience and also come equipped with extra-large

swivel seats, fancy buffet meals and video screens to re-watch the

game just played.

So, while Adelman’s complaints are justified and do put

his team at a certain disadvantage, I know plenty of ex-CBA

players, coaches and even many more civilians who wouldn’t

mind getting NBA money for traveling like royalty and working for

two hours two nights in succession.

Adelman is advised to get as much rest as he can, eat well

and play his bench.

After all, oftentimes the difference between the sublime and

the ridiculous is in the eyes of the beholder.