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How do you defend the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki?

by Berry Tramel Published: May 18, 2011

DALLAS — They're commissioning a Dirk Nowitzki statue. Everyone's ordering sauerkraut on their hot dogs. Jerry Jones is scratching his head, wondering how a guy in short pants became Big D's favorite athlete.

Yep, Nowitzki's 48-point Game 1 against the Thunder has taken this city by storm.

The league, too. One NBA executive told me that in Chicago, site of the other conference finals, the basketball people are “flabbergasted” at how much better the Dirkenschtein has gotten at the ripe old age of 32.

But before we write off these Western Conference Finals as unwinnable for the Thunder, can we slow the euphoria for the German Express?

Nowitzki was unstoppable Tuesday night and might be again Thursday night, when the Thunder tries to make this a series rather than a Dirk coronation.

Double-team Nowitzki and leave all those shooters even more open? Play him tougher and risk even more whistles, after he went 24-of-24 from the foul line?

Not much of an option there. The Thunder must fall back on one final tactic. Hope.

Hope Nowitzki isn't as good the rest of the series as he was Tuesday night, when Kevin Durant was fabulous but still overshadowed by the 7-foot uber-star.

“Defending without fouling,” grinning Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said of his grand adjustment.

But it's not crazy talk. Two things: 1. The big fellow's been good, no, great for a long time. Nobody in the league matches up with a skilled 7-footer who can shoot from 20 feet away. 2. If Nowitzki truly has become new and improved, the transformation came this week.

In advancing past Portland and the Lakers in these playoffs, Nowitzki was a total stud. But not unstoppable.

Against the Blazers, Nowitzki averaged 27.3 points but made just 45.2 percent of his shots. In the four-game sweep of the Lakers, Nowitzki averaged 25.3 points and though he shot 57.3 percent, LA didn't foul him. Big Dirk shot 16 foul shots total in the series.

How did Portland and the Lakers at least keep Nowitzki from warming up? Well, Gerald Wallace is a 6-foot-8 defensive demon in Portland. So that helps. And the Lakers went primarily with 7-foot Pau Gasol, even though they also had Lamar Odom and Ron Artest as options.

The Thunder's best option is Serge Ibaka, who blocks shots out of the sky unless they come from the 7-foot German he has to guard. Then just getting in the way consumes all of Ibaka's efforts.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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