Nowitzki, Duncan prove loyalty is not dead

Two 7-foot pillars, in every sense of the word, reside at the opposite ends of Texas. One anchors the south, while the other takes up shop to the north.
Their differences are as stark as San Antonio and Dallas. Neither city is confused with the other. Just ask the residents.
But for all that’s different in the two towns – either real or imagined – remember both are in the Lone Star State. It’s not like we’re comparing Paris, France to Paris, Texas.
If you’re in Texas, you’re in Texas.
Tim Duncan is the San Antonio Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks. These rivals are  unique in an age where even elite players rarely play with one team for their entire careers.
And for every distinction in their respective games, they’re mirror images where it counts: Loyal. Humble. Confident. Professional. Winners.
Duncan and Dirk are staving off the twilights of their careers with the same drive that made both champions and MVPs. Duncan, 36, declared himself a “Spur for life” and signed a three-year extension this summer. Nowitzki, 34, has two years left on his current deal, and don’t be surprised if he’s up for another one in 2014.
“He’s as loyal a guy as I’ve seen in this league,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, “and if we can keep putting the right team out there, he’s going to keep wanting to play.”
Remember when this was supposed to be Duncan’s last contract? Something wonderful happened on the way to NBA middle age.
“He doesn’t sit on his fanny too much during the summer,” Spurs coach Greg Popovich said. “He keeps working. A lot of flexibility and long muscle kind of training. Really watches his diet. He’s been pretty consistent every summer about that and he looks great once again.”
Players with the commitment level of Dirk and Timmy aren’t bound by arbitrary numbers measured in years. Each has changed his diet and workout regimen to extend their basketball usefulness.
“Just trying to work a little smarter, get in the gym, put my time in, but really I think my focus has kind of been more on basketball than actually strength and anything else,” Duncan said earlier this week. “Just trying to be here and get my rhythm and feel great about being on the court.”
Knowing they needed to evolve to keep up with foes younger and more athletic, Duncan and Dirk upgraded their operating systems.
“It’s a tribute on how they take care of themselves and to their basketball IQ,” Popovich said, “because they just don’t depend on their athleticism.”
The results are quantifiable and intangible. Duncan actually became more productive in 2011-12 than the year before, as his scoring (15.3) and rebounding (9.0) numbers went up.
Nowitzki did see a drop across the board last season – his 21.6 scoring average was his lowest in a dozen years. But much of that is attributed more to a lockout-induced hangover. He’s returned for this season feeling refreshed, in shape and ready to get after it.
“This summer even though I didn’t touch a ball for three, three-and-a-half months, I was basically in the gym already here in June and July lifting, keeping my legs strong, running,” Nowitzki said.
Duncan and Dirk don’t share many common traits on the court, outside of their heights and positions. Nowitzki has built a career from the 3-point line in, while Duncan may be the best power forward ever on the block.
Nowitzki does have a higher career scoring average (22.9 to 20.3), but Duncan has an edge in just about every other major statistical category. No. 21 also leads in the stats that count – rings (four to one) and MVPs (two to one).
It should be noted that Duncan has played for a more stable franchise and just one coach. Nowitzki has toiled under three skippers and with a roster that’s been routinely overhauled. In either case, they’ve won.
The Spurs are the winningest professional sports franchise of the last 15 years. The Mavericks aren’t far behind. Dallas won its first NBA title in 2011. San Antonio has had the best record in the West the last two years and reached conference finals last season.
“We were right on the verge of getting back to the Finals and we feel we had every opportunity to do that,” Duncan said, “and hopefully we can build on that this year and get right back to that point.”
Nowitzki is confident the revamped Mavericks can once again be a factor after failing to win a playoff game in their title defense.
“We’re going to be good,” he said. “We’re still going to be a tough team to beat.”

Follow Art Garcia on Twitter: @ArtGarcia92