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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nowitzki's title-or-bust approach working so far


DALLAS — The biggest party of Dirk Nowitzki's career was going strong. Teammates, friends and the rest of the 20,000 people who had been screaming "MVP!" since the first quarter were on their feet in appreciation of him and the Dallas Mavericks.

News photo
Hungry: Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki is in his second NBA Finals and is doing all he can to win a championship. AP PHOTO

And Nowitzki wanted no part of it.

A few minutes into the celebration for winning the Western Conference, Nowitzki pried off his new 2011 NBA Finals cap and headed to the locker room.

Reaching the NBA Finals no longer qualifies as a big deal to Nowitzki. He's been there before, in 2006. He was the league's MVP in 2007. He carried Germany's flag into the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics.

As he's made clear on and off the court the last six weeks, all that matters is winning a championship.

"There is no second-place finish in this league," he said. "You get nothing for losing the finals."

The team doesn't. But Nowitzki will walk away from this postseason with a new reputation regardless of whether the Mavs or Miami Heat are crowned champions.

Sure, he's long been an All-Star and a perennial pick for All-NBA, and that MVP award didn't come in a Cracker Jack box. But honors usually have come with the disclaimer, "Yeah, he's a great scorer, but ..." Nowitzki has lacked the unqualified, widespread admiration and appreciation from the average fan.

By powering Dallas past Portland, sweeping the Lakers and showing the Thunder how the big boys get things done this time of year, Nowitzki has redefined his legacy.

"This ride he's been on has been incredible," teammate Jason Kidd said.

Nowitzki is averaging 28.4 points per game in the playoffs, 0.2 behind Kevin Durant for the best overall. He's scored 40 twice, including 48 in the opener of the conference finals.

The real eye-popper is his average of 9.7 points per fourth quarter, the best by anyone in the postseason since 2006 and the best of anyone to get out of the second round since 2003, according to STATS LLC. Among those he trumps are the best by recent NBA Finals MVPs Kobe Bryant (9.6), Paul Pierce (9.0) and Dwyane Wade (8.8).

Heat forward Udonis Haslem covered Nowitzki in the 2006 Finals. He knows the guy he's going to cover the next two weeks will be a much tougher challenge.

Nowitzki has put to rest the idea he's a big man who shoots 3-pointers but is afraid to mix it up in the paint.

"He's just as big a threat down low as he is on the perimeter," Haslem said. "He's a complete player and right now he might be the best player in the playoffs."

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