|06 March 2013|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998 and immediately got traded to Dallas |
To Dirk Nowitzki, these days must be strongly reminiscent of his rookie NBA season, back in the shortened, due to a lockout, 1998/99 regular season.
In that 50-game-long campaign the Dallas Mavericks finished with a meagre 19-31 record, in fifth place in the (then) Midwest Division and far from the play-off spots.
The following year, Nowitzki was already a starter, second fiddle on the team behind Michael Finley, and averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds as Dallas fought to reach the play-offs until the end but came up just short, at 40-42.
By the start of the 2000/01 season though, the German forward had already evolved into the player that would dominate the game for the years to come.
Nowitzki averaged 21.8 points and 9.8 rebounds and propelled the Texan outfit to a 53-29 record and back into the play-offs after a decade-long draught.
He would not only make sure they would never even consider missing out on the business end of the season again, but that they would start every campaign from then on as serious title contenders.
Until now, 12 years later.
Nowitzki was forced to miss the first 29 games of the current season through injury, the longest spell of inactivity in his entire career.
He hurried himself back onto the court just before Christmas and although he soon started scoring in double digits again, he has been struggling for fitness and is averaging 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, his lowest since that rookie season 14 years ago.
Dallas stand at 26-33 and face arch-rivals Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, a team that blew them out 136-103 just three days previously.
The Rockets of Ömer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas and now Tim Olbrecht, are in seventh place in the West with a 33-28 record.
Even if Dallas extract revenge on their Texan rivals on Wednesday, it could mean little in the great scheme of things.
Right now, the Mavericks need to win 15 more games just to finish the regular season with a 50% win-loss record.
Some experts estimate that 46 wins would be necessary for a team to make it into the Western Conference play-offs, which would mean they have to win 20 more games.
They have only 23 games left until the end of the regular season, including the Wednesday night clash with the Rockets.
Speaking to reporters after Tuesday's practice session, Nowitzki admitted gloomily that his team has enormous problems on the defensive end, especially when opponents know how to run the pick'n'roll, 'which is pretty much every team in the league these days', he said.
Dallas are the fourth worst defensive team in the NBA this season, giving up 102.6 to their opponents on average.
While it's true that the Rockets are in the play-off spots although they are the second-worst team in the league on defence, they score 107 points per game to Dallas' 101.
|Nowitzki realised his dream of winning an NBA Championship in 2011, being named Finals MVP |
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME?
Nowitzki has of course accomplished an enormous amount in America since arriving in Dallas as a starstruck 20-year-old unknown from German second division club DJK Würzburg.
The European superstar, a 12-time NBA All-Star, transformed the Mavericks almost single-handedly to one of the top teams in the league, won the coveted championship ring and was named NBA Finals MVP, to name but a few of the feats he's pulled off on the other side of the Atlantic.
Closer to home, the way he propelled Germany to the silver medal at EuroBasket 2005 was engraved as a sort of minor miracle in the collective conscience of European fans.
If anyone can help the Dallas Mavericks come up with the miraculous cure they need right now to save their season, then Nowitzki, one of the greatest European - and not only - players of all time, is the one.
But time is running out. Fans and media in Dallas have already given up on hope of a resurgence, focusing instead on the steps that the franchise owner, Mark Cuban, should take in the off-season to make the team competitive again.
There is no doubt that Nowitzki will stay put, and he will be the star of the team next season too, regardless of whether their roster will improve or not.
He is however turning 35 in June, and he will not have many more chances to reach the play-offs, let alone the NBA Finals. Dallas need to make every one of those count.
Otherwise, this season might not prove to be a one-off failure, but rather a return to Dirk's rookie season and the dark decade that preceded his arrival.