Mavs Top Pacers In Successful Dirk Debut
In typical Dirk Nowitzki fashion, the cornerstone of the franchise made his 2014-2015 debut in relative obscurity and without crazy fanfare — just moments after the Dallas Cowboys recorded one of their biggest victories in recent history. In fact, Nowitzki was about to put up a shot in warm-ups when the PA announcer informed the arena of the Cowboys’ 27-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Big German paused to applaud his Dallas sporting brethren.
But while most of Dallas-Fort Worth was busy celebrating their football team, Nowitzki went to work reminding everyone in attendance that he’s one of the best shooters in NBA history. Sixteen seconds into the preseason contest against the Indiana Pacers he shook off the rust, tried out of his patented elbow jumper and the ball touched nothing but net.
A few minutes later he checked on his baseline jumper. Nothing but net.
The mid-range, One-Legged Euro Fadeaway was next. The result seemed inevitable. With 5:38 left in the first quarter, Nowitzki was subbed out for a rest. He was 3-of-3 with six points.
But for anyone worried about the possible seriousness of Nowitzki’s prior hip injury that had kept him from participating in Dallas two preseason losses, The Uberman came right back into the game with 2:53 left in the first quarter. After uncharacteristically air-balling a shot, he put Mavs fans at ease by making another mid-range jumper with 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
Nowitzki played 9:15 in the first quarter and coach Rick Carlisle left him in for the start of the second. Nowitzki rewarded the decision by hitting a three-pointer 29 seconds into the period.
“Not bad,” Nowitzki said of his fall debut. “You know, I probably could have played last game, but since it’s preseason we took it slow with the hip and I felt fine.”
It was clear from the beginning of the Sunday night’s game that while the Mavericks offense may have a number of playmakers, the gameplan still primarily relies on spacing and movement around Nowitzki. Getting him the ball in position to operate is the key to what promises to be a dynamically crisp offense. By starting the game with Jameer Nelson, Chandler Parsons and Richard Jefferson (at the 2 in place of the injured Monta Ellis), Dallas forced the Pacers into a poison-picking game. Indy opted against leaving shooters to double-team Nowitzki. The choice reinforced the notion that single coverage on Nowitzki — even in his 17th season — is a quick way to give up two points.
Nowitzki was the model for efficiency in the first half. He played 19:05 of a possible 24 minutes and scored eight points in each quarter. He scored those 16 points off of 7-of-11 shooting including 2-of-3 from behind the arc. He also grabbed five rebounds and dished out two assists including a pretty pass in traffic to Brandon Wright, who scored plus the foul.
Nowitzki put up these numbers all while bumping with Luis Scola and frequent and long-time agitator David West.
Carlisle gave his star player the rest of the night off as Wright started the second half in his place. But Dirk had made the most of the time he was on the court. His conditioning looked good, he proved healthy and his shot was as everything we’ve come to expect.
“I thought it went very well,'' Carlisle said. "He told (trainer) Casey (Smith) that he felt good out there, so those were good signs. It’s really just the beginning for him in terms of live action as we all know. ... It was going to be just one half tonight (for Dirk). The goal was 18 or 19 minutes. (The stat sheet) said he played 19… It worked out well and we’ve got to build on it.”
We still haven’t seen Nowitzki, Parsons and Ellis on the floor together, but the pieces we’ve seen from the three of them — as well as the very skilled supporting cast — suggest that the Mavericks’ offense may very well be top-five in the league in terms of efficiency and scoring.
Nowitzki’s health doesn’t do much for the defense, however. That end of the floor will be a work in progress all season. The Mavericks gave up a number of open three-pointers early to the Pacers’ starters. It will likely take a number of adjustments and built roster chemistry over the next few months to get the defense to be in the top 10 (Rick's stated goal), but we found out Sunday night that there’s one thing we won’t have to wait for: Dirk Nowitzki’s jump shot. In fact, that might be the most reliable thing in basketball.
"They were saying I've got fresh legs,'' Nowitzki said, joking about his success. "(But) at 36, I don't think there's such a thing as 'fresh legs.'"
Oh yeah. The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Indiana Pacers 106-98. The final score is almost immaterial, but it’s somewhat fitting — and not a coincidence — that Dallas earned its first preseason victory in Nowitzki’s debut. So will go the season; he may have more help this year, but the victories will still mostly hinge on the man who has accepted and thrived while carrying that burden for well over a decade.
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