DALLAS – There are no guarantees with 35-year-old knees that have logged more than 45,000 NBA minutes and many, many more in international ball.
That being said, Dirk Nowitzki has done everything in his power to prevent knee problems from sabotaging his statistics for a third consecutive season.
Dirk’s decline since the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 title run has been well chronicled. He admittedly wasn’t adequately prepared for the end of the lockout and hectic schedule that ensued, leading to knee soreness and swelling and needing an early-season sabbatical to work his way into shape by his Hall of Fame standards. After a summer of hard work, Nowitzki was surprised by swelling in his knee last preseason, then missed the first two months of the regular season while recovering from arthroscopic surgery.
Now he’s coming off his two least productive seasons since establishing himself as an NBA superstar. Not coincidentally, the Mavs don’t have a playoff win over the last two years.
All that made for an extraordinarily determined Dirk during an extremely long offseason in Dallas, which missed the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years.
“I feel good now,” Nowitzki said during Monday’s media day on the eve of training camp. “Going into camp, I did a lot of work. I started working out in May, probably the earliest for a long, long time. Hopefully I’ll feel good going into the season and I can stay injury-free.
“But I feel now better than I have at any point last year, so I think that’s very encouraging to myself, it’s very important also from a mental standpoint and hopefully I can show it.”
Added coach Rick Carlisle: “He’s a guy that has such love and respect for the game and such pride in his own performance and taking responsibility in winning and losing for this franchise. He knows how important his health is to his game and our game and all of us and all of our fans. This is serious business. His effort has completely matched up with the level of importance.”
The Mavs failed in their two-year quest to make Nowitzki the second-best player on the roster, settling for signing Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and other complementary players after failing to hook big fish Dwight Howard and Chris Paul in free agency.
But the biggest misconception about the under-the-radar Mavs, according to owner Mark Cuban, is that they no longer have a superstar. He’s convinced that Nowitzki, who had an 11-season All-Star streak snapped last season, can return to elite form in 2013-14, pointing to the late-career success as historically great power forwards such as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone as proof of the possibility.
Dirk acknowledges that the doubts about his ability to still perform to the standard he set for himself served as ample summer motivational fodder.
“Competitors, they always find ways to motivate themselves,” said Nowitzki, who averaged 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in his down 2012-13 campaign, including 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds after the All-Star break. “When I first got here, ‘He can’t do it, he’s not ready for the NBA,’ then once I established himself, ‘He can’t win it all.’ So I think there’s always stuff you can use as motivation and competitors use it the right way.
“So yeah, I’m fired up and hopefully I can show it and still put up a decent season.”
Decent by Dirk’s standards means dominant. That’s the Nowitzki the Mavs need to have any hope of accomplishing their mission of making playoff noise again.