10 Takes On Mavs' Dirk Shutdown
Dirk Nowitzki is averaging just 17.5 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting. His balky knee is an issue. But with Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle speaking before the Saturday tip in New Orleans and doing do rather tersely while mentioning other factors – including the semi-mysterious "unresolved physical issues'' – there seems a story behind the story of the plan to sit out Dirk for four games. Or maybe 10 stories -- and that's not even counting the actual victory, an 83-81 decision that allows the mavs to split the four-game road trip, move to 10-7 and maybe kill some of that nasty N.O. voodoo. ...
1. I initially wondered ... Who originated this idea? Did Dirk come to Rick or vice-versa? Did trainer Casey Smith, who is especially close to Dirk, help push the move? What if it's Holger's suggestion?
Is everybody cool with that?
"If it were up to Dirk, he would play,'' Rick explained. "But right now, we feel the right thing is to take this time, get some things resolved and hopefully by next Sunday, he'll be feeling a lot better and ready to go.''
Added Carlisle: "This is the decision of Casey Smith and me.''
"They approached me with it (Friday) at the meeting and I wasn't thrilled at the beginning,'' Nowitzki said. "We talked about it (Friday) in the meeting and I just thought it was a good decision for everybody.''
He also joked, "They wanted to send me to Frisco, too.''
OK. It's not a "punishment'' on the part of Carlisle, of course. Yet …
2. Carlisle mentioned that Nowitzki will this week "go through harder workouts this week than he would have if we were having practice days and in some cases, he'll go multiple times. It's where we're at … It's knee related, it's conditioning related, yeah. Unresolved physical issues covers the knee and conditioning and whatever else.''
Carlisle said Nowitzki needs "an uninterrupted eight days of work to resolve some physical issues and conditioning issues.''
I guess all of that means it's not tendonitis of the knee, because two-a-day-style training is no cure for that. So, in what world is Dirk's knee not good enough to allow him to play but yet good enough to allow him to spend a week working harder than he would in game conditions?
Rick's mood seemed terse. And his statement – right down to the "whatever else'' – seems edgy.
3. But Mavs management, the training staff and Dirk himself have all earned the benefit of the doubt here. And in some ways, isn't this simply a continuation of the limiting of minutes for heavy-lifters like Dirk and Kidd? Remember, Kidd just finished his own four-game stint of non-game action due to a sore back.
In theory, this is a headline-grabbing extension of the same old smart lid-on-minutes plan.
4. At the same time, just 30 hours before Rick's announcement, he said on his radio show that the team had no plan for any such shutdown. That certainly feeds my planned exploration of what (or who) changed from Friday to Saturday.
Rick did say, "We haven't written anything off as a possibility.'' But his thoughts when speaking on ESPN Radio clearly veered away from a shutdown. We monitor everything very closely,'' he said. "We'll leave any possibility open as a possibility, but going forward we think we're going to be fine."
Something changed. A meeting, I guess -- and Dirk telling some truths about his health and his contributions.
"I'm not helping right now anyway, and I think the guys are better off when I'm not out there,'' Dirk said. "This gives me time to really do some of the stuff that I couldn't be doing because my knee was bothering me the last couple of weeks.
"I couldn't lift and run and do the stuff I needed to do because my knee was swollen most of the time. So this week my knee felt better, and this next week gives me some time to lift and really get back to where it should be.''
And one more quote from Dirk:
"I couldn't go by anybody on the dribble, and that's part of my game right now,'' he said. "I was just basically a pop-up shooter every time I caught it.''
5. My Fox Sports Southwest colleague Bob Ortegel smartly guesses that Dirk mentor/coach/father figure Holger Geschwindner is quite possibly on the next flight outta Germany and America-bound. If he's not, he should be.
And let me throw this back out there: Holger is just influential enough to be the reason things changed. I mean, he can move mountains with a simple furrowing of the brow.
6. "I'm having trouble bending my knees," said Nowitzki a few days ago. "I've just got to get my legs stronger, get my base back. I've got to use my legs in my shot and hopefully they'll come back soon."
It is conceivable that specific training work – not specific to playing basketball and not the same as playing basketball – is the way to strengthen the legs so Dirk doesn't have to wear the knee sleeve, doesn't have to labor up and down the floor, doesn't have to continue falling short of the MVP-level player he's been for almost a decade.
7. This is no crisis. It's not a crisis of conflict between a player and his team. It's not a crisis of injury. And because of the timing of it, it's not a crisis in regard to the ability of the 10-7 Mavs to gather more wins. New Orleans exited Saturday at 3-13. The Mavs, on the strength of a defense that is top-six in pretty much every important category, will be favorites in home games Monday, Wednesday and Friday (against Phoenix, Minnesota and Utah, respectively). That's four games, putting Dirk back in the lineup for next Sunday's home showdown with San Antonio.
8. The Mavs believe they are built for circumstances like this. When Kidd sat, Delonte West moved to point guard and the Mavs won all four games. With Dirk out, Lamar Odom stepped into the starting power forward job and all he is is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
"I like the way Lamar played,'' Carlisle said after LO scored 16 points and was a +9 in his 26 minutes.
That's all something better than LO averaging just 7.1 points a game. Going forward, as a starter he's almost certain to get more than his usual 20 minutes per, that should change.
"This is a big week for him,'' Carlisle said of Odom.
It's also a chance for Yi Jianlian to play more at the 4. (He got first crack at the backup job, doing too little in five minutes.) Some Custodian? Sure. And maybe Brandan Wright, too, as he gave Dallas six athletic minutes on Saturday. Plus, with Dirk and Vince both out, there is now roster room for the call-ups of DoJo and Sean Williams. And more Roddy B, this would be a handy week for that, too.
9. Dallas was 2-9 during a nine-game injury stint for Dirk a year ago. That worked out OK. He returned, so did his free-throw and rebound numbers (presently in the tank), and the rest is history.
Oh, and also, from last year's sit-out, we got "Take That Wit Chew!'' ... and the Dirk-approved Mavs DB.com t-shirt to go along with it.
I said this on TV on the pregame show on Fox Sports Southwest, and I'll say it here: If Saturday night had been Game 7 of a playoff series, Dirk would've played … and would've probably won game MVP honors.
10. I don't think mine is a foolishly sunny take, but rather, the right take: The best-case result of this move is the likely result: The Mavs win more games than they lose this week. Odom's confidence and comfortability awakens and he emerges as a force.
And Dirk Nowitzki – with 35,772 of wear on those treads – returns to the floor with his oil changed and his lugnuts tightened and his tires rotated.
As he also said late Saturday: "(I've) got a little fire back. A lot of guys say I'm done. I obviously read the (media) stuff."
Good. Oil, lugnuts, tires ... and fire.