DALLAS – Midway through the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game, it seemed like the only way to stop Dirk Nowitzki was to sit him.
That’s exactly what coach Rick Carlisle did.
Nowitzki had scored 11 points in a three-minute span to key the Mavs’ run to pull even with the Houston Rockets when he got his routine rest midway through the third quarter. Actually, Carlisle waited until the 5:08 mark, recognizing that the big German was in a groove and riding it for an extra 52 seconds. The Rockets responded with a 9-2 run and led the rest of the game.
Given how hot Nowitzki was at the time, should Carlisle have scrapped the 35-year-old’s rest routine and let him keep rolling?
“If he’s gassed and he’s at a point of exhaustion, what good is it to keep him in there if the next shot is going to be a really difficult shot?” Carlisle said. “You know, we’re not pulling him out for extended periods of time. I understand your question and I’m all for riding hot guys, and that would be something that you could easily debate.”
In fairness, it’s important to note that Nowitzki has never complained about the rest routine over the last few years. In fact, he has occasionally mentioned being concerned when he had to play too many minutes, well aware that he’s fighting Father Time. He’s averaging 32.4 minutes per game, well below his career norm but about a minute more than last season.
The rubber sleeve on Nowitzki’s stiff left knee is a reminder of his basketball mortality. That re-appeared after Nowitzki got a DNP-OLD last week in Toronto, sitting out the loss to the Raptors because he needed rest.
And, as awesome as Nowitzki has been this season, he’s struggled to finish games strong. His shooting percentage in the fourth quarter this season dips to 42.9 percent, by far his lowest of any quarter. He scored 38 points on 13-of-21 shooting Wednesday against the Rockets, but he was just 2-of-7 from the floor in the final frame.
There are a lot of good reasons that managing Nowitzki’s minutes is such a priority, even in extraordinary circumstances.
“That’s something that’s a constant reconciliation for the decision-maker,” Carlisle said. “I feel I have a pretty good handle for what works for Dirk, but listen, I’m open. I’m always open and I’m always studying it, and I’m always trying to get better with it.”