Mavs Top Grizzlies, Playoff Magic Number Is 1; 1-on-1 With Randolph Lauding Dirk

For me, Mavs vs. Grizzlies wasn't just about Dallas' Friday night win, as big as it is. It's about a story within a story, from my 1-on-1 with Zach Randolph on the subject of Dirk Nowitzki's shoes.

Nobody who cares about their money is going to Las Vegas with a hunch that the Dallas Mavericks or Memphis Grizzlies are going to win the championship. But both teams are right in the playoff picture. They are beating good teams and treating postseason basketball like something that you don’t take for granted. ... and the Mavs did something worth appreciating again Friday at the AAC, with a 103-93 victory that gives 41-38 Dallas a sixth straight win and puts its magic number to clinch a playoff berth at one.

Something to be proud of?

"I'm not proud of anything yet,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "We have to get to the playoffs, and we have to get the best possible seed."

(Get your DB.com GameThread here to follow the double-double success of Justin Anderson and the injury to JJ Barea , and check in here as you vote for the "Dirkie''/Player of the Game. Oh, and go ahead and be proud!)

                

That chance at a "best possible seed'' (maybe even 6, which would allow the Mavs to avoid an opening-round meeting with the Warriors or Spurs) is at hand now in large part to the return of the fore of Dirk Nowitzki, who rebounded from a poor shooting week to lead Dallas in scoring with 21. 

There are a couple reasons for the competitive nature of these two second-tier contenders, but the two biggest ones are probably Dirk Nowitzki and Zach Randolph (13 points and six rebounds here). Both guys have been playing the power forward position for a long time. Between their on-court games and their off-court personalities, they probably don’t have a ton in common, but they both love playing basketball and showing up every day to do exactly that. It’s what they’ll both be remembered for.

I caught up with Randolph at the Grizzlies shootaround before this Friday game against Dallas. I hadn’t even mentioned Nowitzki’s name yet. All I had said was "You’ve been playing against him for a long time'' ...  and Z-Bo knew who I was talking about. 

“Man, I got a lot of respect for him,” Randolph told me. “One of the greatest to ever play the game. Hall-of-Famer and a great person.”

Then Randolph went on to tell me a story from well over a decade ago. It was 2003 and Randolph was playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. He was only in his second year. They faced off with the Mavericks in the first round. Dallas took a 3-0 lead in the series. That’s when Portland coach Mo Cheeks decided to give more playing time to their little-used and seemingly undersized big man named Zach Randolph.

“I was in Portland, my second or third year,” Randolph remembered. “I kind of came into my own in that playoffs. Going at Dirk and we were battling each other. I brought the team back from 3-0. I got my chance. So I got a lot of respect for him.”

Randolph put up 21 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6, which forced a Game 7 and almost helped the Blazers become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series. Z-Bo put up another double-double in Game 7, but Nowitzki dropped 31 points and 11 rebounds -- because, you know, he's Dirk -- to advance the Mavericks. 

The story extended past the final buzzer, when a defeated Randolph approached Nowitzki. 

“After they beat us in that game,'' Randolph said, "I was young and I asked him for his shoes. It was the game they [eliminated us], and I asked him for his shoes and he gave them to me, and I still have them.”

It was a sign of respect and admiration. It’s a fun story, but it also gives a small insight into who Randolph is. The narrative has usually been that he was a knucklehead who needed to figure out how to be a professional in the NBA, and eventually everything clicked for him. He likely did mature over the years, and his youth can’t be characterized by one small story, but Randolph clearly wasn’t lacking humility in his early years. 

                      

That game took place on May 4th, 2003. Of all the players who played in that game, the only ones still in the NBA are Zach Randolph and Dirk Nowitzki, and here they are, Memphis trying on Friday to hang onto sixth place, Dallas on Friday giving chase to the same place ... and these two are still looking to carry their teams to the playoffs, with, ultimately, Dirk still being Dirk.


Dallas Basketball Top Stories

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That chance at a \"best possible seed'' (maybe even 6, which would allow the Mavs to avoid an opening-round meeting with the Warriors or Spurs) is at hand now in large part to the return of the fore of Dirk Nowitzki, who rebounded from a poor shooting week to lead Dallas in scoring with 21. 

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There are a couple reasons for the competitive nature of these two second-tier contenders, but the two biggest ones are probably Dirk Nowitzki and Zach Randolph (13 points and six rebounds here). Both guys have been playing the power forward position for a long time. Between their on-court games and their off-court personalities, they probably don’t have a ton in common, but they both love playing basketball and showing up every day to do exactly that. It’s what they’ll both be remembered for.

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I caught up with Randolph at the Grizzlies shootaround before this Friday game against Dallas. I hadn’t even mentioned Nowitzki’s name yet. All I had said was \"You’ve been playing against him for a long time'' ...  and Z-Bo knew who I was talking about. 

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“Man, I got a lot of respect for him,” Randolph told me. “One of the greatest to ever play the game. Hall-of-Famer and a great person.”

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Then Randolph went on to tell me a story from well over a decade ago. It was 2003 and Randolph was playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. He was only in his second year. They faced off with the Mavericks in the first round. Dallas took a 3-0 lead in the series. That’s when Portland coach Mo Cheeks decided to give more playing time to their little-used and seemingly undersized big man named Zach Randolph.

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“I was in Portland, my second or third year,” Randolph remembered. “I kind of came into my own in that playoffs. Going at Dirk and we were battling each other. I brought the team back from 3-0. I got my chance. So I got a lot of respect for him.”

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Randolph put up 21 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6, which forced a Game 7 and almost helped the Blazers become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series. Z-Bo put up another double-double in Game 7, but Nowitzki dropped 31 points and 11 rebounds -- because, you know, he's Dirk -- to advance the Mavericks. 

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The story extended past the final buzzer, when a defeated Randolph approached Nowitzki. 

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“After they beat us in that game,'' Randolph said, \"I was young and I asked him for his shoes. It was the game they [eliminated us], and I asked him for his shoes and he gave them to me, and I still have them.”

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It was a sign of respect and admiration. It’s a fun story, but it also gives a small insight into who Randolph is. The narrative has usually been that he was a knucklehead who needed to figure out how to be a professional in the NBA, and eventually everything clicked for him. He likely did mature over the years, and his youth can’t be characterized by one small story, but Randolph clearly wasn’t lacking humility in his early years. 

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That game took place on May 4th, 2003. Of all the players who played in that game, the only ones still in the NBA are Zach Randolph and Dirk Nowitzki, and here they are, Memphis trying on Friday to hang onto sixth place, Dallas on Friday giving chase to the same place ... and these two are still looking to carry their teams to the playoffs, with, ultimately, Dirk still being Dirk.

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