<
>

Dirk Nowitzki finds shot, dominates L.A.

DALLAS -- Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is proving to be a more effective defender against Dirk Nowitzki's nearly indefensible array of fallaways and step-backs than the Los Angeles Lakers tandem of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and even Ron Artest at times.

Gasol certainly isn't having an easy go of things against his fellow 7-foot Euro. The Lakers forward hasn't come close to containing Nowitzki, who is shooting 52.6 percent (60.0 percent from 3-point range) against L.A. compared to 45.2 percent against the Blazers. Nowtizki's scoring average was actually a tick higher against the Blazers (27.3 to 26.0) because he got to the free throw line with greater frequency than in the first two games against L.A.

Nowitzki has attempted just 10 free throws in Games 1 and 2. He took 11 in Game 6 against Portland and 63 in the series.

Part of the reason for Nowitzki's low free throw total is simply that his shot is going down with regularity in this surprising second-round series that has the Dallas Mavericks seeking a commanding 3-0 lead tonight at the American Airlines Center.

"I'm feeling in a good rhythm. I didn't really shoot the ball well in the whole first series, but I have a good shooting rhythm right now," said Nowitzki, who shot a career-best 51.7 percent during the regular season. "I just have to keep attacking for this team and understand whoever is on me, I still got to make some moves and make some stuff happen."

Nowitzki's fallaways and step-backs have been particularly devastating. He's silenced the Staples Center crowd on several occasions, most notably with a turnaround fallaway against Gasol for an and-1 in the fourth quarter of Game 2. And he's almost unguardable when he's nailing 3-pointers. Nowitzki has made 3 of 5 against L.A., draining them both in transition and in the half-court set.

"I mean, it's tough. He hits shots," the 6-10 Odom said. "There was a span in that game where he didn't shoot the ball as much, I think towards the end of the third, start of the fourth, and that was probably our chance to close in on the gap and we weren't able to."

At the other end, Nowitzki has fared much better defending the crafty Gasol, who can hit the mid-range jumper, but also boasts a low-post game. Gasol has not shot well in either round and has actually increased his shooting percentage from 41.8 against the New Orleans Hornets to 45.5 against Dallas, still well below his season average of 52.9.

"With Pau, I'm just trying to battle. He's so long in there," Nowitzki said. "You've got to attack him on the defensive end and try to take his legs away on the offensive end."