Dirk Nowitzki 'has carried this franchise'

DALLAS -- There's something different about Dirk Nowitzki, and it seems as if the rest of the country is taking notice of the Dallas Mavericks' superstar.

And opinion isn't being confined only to this year's playoffs: Nowitzki's legacy as an all-time great is also gaining momentum.

"In my opinion, he's a top 10 player in NBA history because of the uniqueness of his game and how he's carried this franchise on his back for over a decade," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told "ESPN First Take" on Monday. "He's just right. He's leading the team. His shot-making is great. He's passing the ball great. He's one of the guys that's directing traffic for us defensively."

Sure, Nowitzki has been the league MVP (2006-07), and he's been the one constant on the floor during the Mavericks' run of 11 consecutive 50-win seasons. Only the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics (1959-1968), the Magic Johnson-led Lakers (1980-91) and the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs (2000-present) have had comparable runs.

Those teams, however, won championships. Dirk has yet to win an NBA title, making his only Finals appearance in 2006 when the Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat in six games.

"He's got one thing missing from the mantel and that drives him," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson told ESPN 103.3 FM on Monday morning. "We've maybe been spoiled by how good he is."

Nowitzki is 23rd on the NBA's all-time scoring list with 22,792 points, his career average of 23.0 points ranks 21st, and his free-throw percentage (.877) is tied for 13th all-time.

One could make a strong case that Nowitzki has been the NBA's MVP of the first two rounds of the playoffs. The 7-footer has averaged 26.5 points and has consistently come through as a closer, putting up double figures in the fourth quarter of half the Mavs' wins this postseason.

He also twice hit go-ahead shots in the final two minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers, whom the Mavericks swept out of the playoffs with a 122-86 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday.

"When he's on the floor, we feel like we can beat anybody," Carlisle said. "He's that good."

Nowitzki is one of four players in NBA history with career postseason averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.

"This is the best I've seen him play in his career, to be honest with you," said Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who was defended by Nowitzki for most of the series.

Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com contributed to this report.