Nowitzki leading Mavs, keeping playoff push alive

Dirk Nowitzki finally leads the Dallas Mavericks in scoring

again. He has more work to do if he wants to make the playoffs for

a 13th straight season.

The 7-foot German passed teammate O.J. Mayo even before getting

a season-high 35 and hitting a last-second 3-pointer to complete a

stirring rally against Chicago over the weekend.

The Mavericks started winning at a playoff pace once Nowitzki

got settled in after missing the first 27 games following the first

knee surgery of his career. Their playoff odds still aren’t good

going into a critical game Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Lakers,

one of the teams they’re chasing, but without a 15-1 run in the

final 4 minutes of the 100-98 win over the Bulls, the odds would be

even worse.

In other words, they’re a reflection of feisty owner Mark Cuban

with their core of four veterans with at least 13 years of NBA

experience apiece.

”Nobody gives up. I think we’re all competitors,” Nowitzki

said. ”Mark … is probably the biggest competitor. You see the

tweets with Donald Trump every day. They’re competing over Twitter,

those two morons. And obviously the leadership of this team with

the older guys. We’ve all obviously got a lot of pride, a lot of

fight, and that’s what you’ll be seeing these last couple of


Nowitzki said the same thing about the Lakers, who started the

season as a good bet to win the Western Conference after putting

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash alongside Kobe Bryant. They’ve changed

coaches and battled injuries and chemistry issues, and started

Monday tied with Utah for the final playoff spot in the West, a

game and a half ahead of Dallas (36-37).

Ultimately, the Lakers and Mavericks might be looking up at the

Jazz, who have by far the best home record of the three and play

five of their next six in Utah. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are

starting a four-game trip with stops in playoff-bound Denver,

Sacramento and Portland, where Dallas rarely plays well.

”Even if we win (against the Lakers), it doesn’t mean we’re

in,” Nowitzki said. ”So we’re in a tough situation, but we’re

sure as heck going to try.”

At least the Mavericks have Nowitzki in playoff form. He’s

averaging 19.9 points per game since the All-Star break, when it

was safe to say recovery from knee surgery was behind him, and he’s

shooting 63 percent over his past eight games.

He’s had several vintage Nowitzki games in recent weeks –

hitting big shots in fourth quarters – but even those at times have

been illustrations of Dallas’ up-and-down season. Case in point:

the last time the Mavericks played the Lakers. Nowitzki had

probably his best game of the year to that point with a season-high

30, but Bryant was just a little better, getting 38 in the Lakers’

103-99 win.

That was one of many days the Mavericks didn’t figure to have

much hope to keep their playoff streak alive.

”We’re not perfect,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. ”In

many ways we’ve embraced our imperfection. And I think in our

situation that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Nowitzki still needs help, just as he did when the Mavericks won

the title in 2011. Mayo was the go-to guy while Nowitzki sat to

start the season, but it didn’t take long for teams to figure that

out and make things hard on him.

Plus, Mayo’s never been the top option, so it’s really been a

season-long struggle. He’s led the team in scoring just twice in

the past 24 games, and now he’s battling a bum shoulder from a

collision in last week’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers – the

first for Dallas this season against the top four teams in the West

standings at the time.

While Nowitzki was making just about everything against the

Bulls, Mayo was having his worst shooting day in Dallas. He made

one of 13 from the field and finished with four points.

”He’s chomping at the bit to get into the eighth spot,” Mayo

said of Nowitzki. ”He carries a big load. That’s why we’re here,

to help lighten it. We have to be ready to throw punches beside


Vince Carter brings a lot of intangibles off the bench, and some

hot 3-point shooting that has been a big boost in some of the wins.

But he’s cooled off recently, making just seven of 29 from long

range the past six games.

Chris Kaman, one of several newcomers on one-year deals as the

Mavericks again chose financial flexibility over a long-term

commitment to Nowitzki’s new sidekick, hasn’t been the frontcourt

partner for Nowitzki that the Mavericks envisioned. His playing

time has fallen way off with the emergence of Brandan Wright, who

has his two best scoring games of the season in the past five.

”It’s always a must win for us,” Wright said. ”We can’t

afford to lose two in a row. We have a big road trip coming up.

It’s pretty much going to make or break us.”

The Mavericks looked broken several times, but they still have a


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