OK, just maybe there is something to this idea Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki can’t be guarded.
Credit Charles Barkley for putting that in our consciousness.
But the 7-foot-tall all-star is certainly making a strong case for himself in these Western Conference playoffs. First it was the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers who seemed flat out helpless against the Mavs deadly perimeter shooter during the conference semifinals.
Now it’s Oklahoma City’s turn and if Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night is any indication, then the Thunder won’t have an to answer for Nowitzki. He simply takes bigger defenders to school on the perimeter and smaller ones straight to the rack.
Nowitzi, fresh off more than a week’s rest after sweeping Kobe Bryant and the Lakers out of the playoffs, was spectacular from start to finish Tuesday night as he led his Mavs to a convincing 121–112 win in Dallas. Nowitzki converted 10 of his first 11 shots and then knocked down an NBA playoff record 24-straight free throws on the way to a 48-point scoring night.
Serge Ibaka and his 7-foot-4-inch wingspan never stood a chance. Neither did Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Thad Sefolosha or James Harden, who all took their unsuccessful turns on Nowitzki after Ibaka got into quick foul trouble trying to guard the deceptively quick Nowitzki.
"I thought Dirk was pretty good tonight," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said with a smile during the postgame press conference. "I thought we defended him as close as we can—obviously, too close."
The Lakers, of course, had the same problem against Nowitzki. They sent Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Jack Nicholson from his courtside seat to guard him. Nothing seemed to work.
The thing is Nowitzki, a 10-time all-star, has put together a special career as a perimeter player in a center’s frame. But this postseason he seems to be taking it to another level as it looks more and more like the Mavs could be the team to beat in the entire playoffs. The Thunder definitely needs to figure some things out or they will be the next opponents swept from the playoffs against the unstoppable Nowitzki.
"He was hot," Ibaka said. "It's tough. You can't get frustrated. I'll watch the film and we'll come back the next game."
Good luck with that one.
Contact Terrance Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)