Dirk Nowitzki Doesn’t Believe He’s Playing at a Higher Level Now Than He Has In the Past

May 16, 2011 – 8:45 am by Eric Schmoldt

Dirk Nowitzki can’t get it done in the postseason. That seems to always be the knock when it comes to the Dallas Mavericks’ big man. At least until this year.

Nowitzki has been the star on plenty of Dallas teams that have had high expectations, only to come up well short, most of the time not even making the Finals. All of a sudden Nowitzki is now the star on a team that sputtered to the finish line and had virtually no expectations from outsiders heading into the Playoffs. And the Mavs are just one series win away from making it back to the Finals for the first time in five years.

The question has been: What has changed in Dirk that has allowed this team to have so much success this time around? In his eyes, nothing has really changed, he says. Nowitzki says he still played better in the playoffs five years ago than he has this year. But he still has to clear some hurdles. Nobody will remember this run if the Mavs lose to Oklahoma City and the enigma of coming up short in the playoffs will survive if Dallas doesn’t make a title run.

Dirk Nowitzki joined ESPN Dallas with The Ben and Skin Show to discuss what has changed in his game, what others say has changed, if leadership is really all that important, how his game has evolved, whether he’ll consider retirement earlier if he wins a ring and if this Mavericks team is chomping at the bit because the veterans see their window closing.

Is he a significantly different player now than he has been in recent years?:

“I actually don’t think so. We had an amazing run in ’06 to go to the Finals. Obviously we came up short, which is a huge disappointment, but just to get there I think me and the team played some of our best basketball. To get by the San Antonio series, playing seven games on a high level and winning on the road in a tough environment. Then I had 50 against Phoenix in a huge Game 5 here that we had to come back and win. I still think that was my best year right there in the playoffs.”

On Don Nelson saying that Dirk has matured as a leader, that he’s mentally tougher and that he’s defending better than he has in the past:

“Well I think it’s all about experience. On the offensive end, it’s knowing how to get a shot off, how to get to your spots, how to shoot over your defender and get to the foul line. On the defensive end, like I said, it’s great to know that you have Tyson [Chandler], who is very active. … You can be a little more aggressive on post D or pick-and-roll coverage. … Leadership-wise, I still pick my spots. I’m still not the most comfortable guy getting up there and holding like a 15-minute speech.”

Is too big a deal made about leadership or is it truly important?:

“It is, but I think we’re kind of doing it by committee. Jason Kidd is a Hall of Fame point guard, has been to two Finals and has been a leader for a long time. The thing about us is we’re more of a lead-by-example kind of guys. We go out there and play every night, don’t take possessions off, and that’s how we lead.”

How did his game and his identity on the floor come together over time?:

“I think it’s all kind of melted together. … We always worked on the high release because we all saw that I wasn’t the most athletic guy in the gym. … That helps me now, to this day, when a smaller defender is on me. If I get to a spot to 15 or 16 feet where I’m comfortable shooting with a high release, that I can get my shot off, basically on anybody. … Here in the league, Nelly giving me all the confidence and then Avery adding to my repertoire, putting me on the block more. I think it’s all, just over the last 10 or 11 years, a process of working and then bringing some talent. If I was some stiff with no hands, it would’ve been tough.”

If he wins a championship, would that make him more inclined to hang up his sneakers a little earlier?:

“It might, it might not. It really depends on just how I feel and if it’s fun and if I still love to compete. That’s the main thing, sometimes when you retire, people miss the competitiveness, they miss the camaraderie in the locker room. … We just have to wait and see.”

Is this a veteran team that feels like it has to win now because the window for doing so is closing on them?:

“It is a little overblown to me. I’ve never really looked at the window. Everything that I’ve looked at was, hey, this is a new year, a new opportunity. Last year is out of the window and now we’re going to go for it. And whatever happens this year, next year’s going to be the same. I signed on for four years.”

Listen to Dirk Nowitzki on ESPN Dallas here

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