Dirk Nowitzki has a firm grasp of basketball and the English language, but his description of the Dallas Mavericks' shaky existence Thursday night came out a little garbled.
"In the third quarter, when we were down seven, I just saw the whole season swimming away," Nowitzki, the Mavericks' German import, said after leading Dallas to a 117-101 victory against the Phoenix Suns.
Presumably, he meant "slipping," not "swimming." Either way, the Mavericks needed a life preserver and a prayer. Nowitzki delivered both, with 22 points in the fourth quarter and 50 in the game, and now the Mavericks -- relegated for much of their history to the kiddie pool -- stand one victory away from splashing in the deep end.
Leading by 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, Dallas has two chances to close out the Suns and win the NBA Western Conference title. The Mavericks have been this close twice before. In 1988, they reached Game 7 of the conference final but fell to the Lakers. In 2003, they were taken out in six games by the San Antonio Spurs.
Nowitzki was almost 10 the first time the Mavericks fell short. He was an injured bystander when they were eliminated in 2003 after injuring a knee in Game 3 of that series.
But the Mavericks are a vastly changed group since their most recent heartbreak, and not only because Nowitzki is as healthy, as mature and as dominant as he has ever been. The team was retooled in the past three years, making moves risky and controversial.
Of the teammates who surrounded Nowitzki in 2003, only two remain: the reserve swingman Adrian Griffin and coach Avery Johnson, who was a backup guard.
Don Nelson, the former coach and general manager who built the Mavericks, stepped aside last year. He was replaced by Johnson, a rookie head coach.
The so-called Big Three who brought the Mavericks back to prominence -- Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley -- were reduced to the Big One.
Nash, the creative playmaker, left as a free agent in 2004, when the Suns offered more money than Dallas was willing to pay. Finley, the sweet-shooting veteran swingman, was cut last summer under the NBA's amnesty rule, which allowed Dallas to avoid paying millions in luxury taxes.
In place of Finley, the Mavericks rely on Josh Howard, a developing third-year forward who was taken 29th in the 2003 draft. In place of Nash, the Mavericks have a 23-year-old point guard, the boyish Devin Harris.
Waiving Finley, a respected elder statesman, was a tough move, made tougher when he signed with the rival Spurs -- and made tougher still when the Spurs nearly beat the Mavericks in the conference semifinals.
Nash's departure was similarly emotional, made tougher by his close friendship with Nowitzki -- and tougher still because he led the Suns to a second-round victory against Dallas last year.
But with the franchise poised to go to NBA finals, where it has never been, every move is cast in a new light. Just do not ask the owner, Mark Cuban, if a berth in the finals validates it all.
"Validation, schmalidation," he wrote in an e-mail message. "The only reward is a ring. Everything else is what friends argue about over beers before they play quarters."
That said, Cuban's best move may have been installing Johnson last year after Nelson stepped down. Johnson, 41, had served just one season as an assistant when Cuban promoted him. Had he waited, Cuban might have had a shot at hiring Phil Jackson or Larry Brown.
APPROPRIATE RESPONSE: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan expressed ‘sincere regret’ for publishing the image on its in-house magazine and Web site A satirical mock-up depicting the Tokyo Games logo as the novel coronavirus has been pulled from online after Olympic organizers branded it “insensitive” and said that it infringed copyright. The design combines the distinctive, spiky image of the coronavirus cell with the blue-and-white Tokyo Games logo. It appeared on the cover of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s magazine. The Tokyo Games have been postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and halted sport worldwide. Club president Khaldon Azhari yesterday said that the club had decided to withdraw the image and remove
Uncertainty grips next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympic Games: Will there be fans or empty stadiums in 14 months? How will thousands of athletes, staff members and technical officials travel, be housed and stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic? And the Tokyo Games are not the only event. China, where COVID-19 was first detected, is to hold three mega-sports events in the year after the Tokyo Olympics are set to close. The World University Games in Chengdu, China, are to open, with up to 8,000 athletes, only 10 days after the Tokyo Games close. Next come the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning on Feb. 4, 2022,
The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas’ burgeoning career, but he remains philosophical about the tennis shutdown. The world No. 6 would have been preparing for the French Open that was originally scheduled to start this weekend, but was postponed to September. While he is missing life on the ATP Tour, Tsitsipas believes that the lockdown has given the planet a breather. “I actually think they should put us in lockdown once a year — it’s good for nature, it’s good for our planet,” Tsitsipas said in an Instagram Live conversation for At Home With Babsi on Eurosport’s Instagram page. “I
When South Korea’s domestic women’s golf tour held its premier event last week — without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic — no fewer than three of the world’s top 10 players took part. The country of 52 million people has a disproportionate share of the women’s world golf rankings, providing eight of the current top 20. In a demonstration of their prominence, South Korean women have won at least one major every season since 2010, with coronavirus cancellations perhaps the biggest threat to their run this year. The phenomenon, players and commentators have said, results from driven parents, intense training, a highly