The Miami Heat, the newest Evil Empire, have proven their doubters and haters wrong by blowing through the Eastern Conference playoffs and earning a trip into the NBA Finals.
The Boston Celtics and their Big Four of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo couldn’t slow down the Heat, as they were easily disposed in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games. The NBA’s MVP, Derrick Rose, and the Chicago Bulls were run over by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in five games as well in the Conference Finals, including a shocking comeback victory in Game 5 that clinched the series. The last hope for the legions of anti-Heat fans around the world comes in the form of the most unassuming superstar in the Association, Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki never gets much attention from NBA diehards and casual fans alike. He doesn’t have the ridiculous athleticism of a Rose or James, he can’t dunk over a car like Blake Griffin and he’s never grabbed headlines for demanding a trade like Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony. All he’s done in his 13-year NBA career is average at least 21 points and seven rebounds for 11 consecutive seasons while also taking the Mavericks to the playoffs in each of those 11 seasons. His fadeway jumper isn’t nearly as exciting as a James dunk, Rose drive to the basket or Griffin alley oop, but he makes it at an alarmingly high rate and no one can seem to block it. While most of the attention in these NBA playoffs has gone to the rise of the Heat and the tremendous growth of the Bulls and Thunder, Nowitzki has quietly had a great postseason in leading a Mavs team that many people didn’t expect to get out of the first round into the Finals.
In 15 postseason games, Nowitzki is averaging 28.4 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting a scintillating 51.7 percent from the field, 51.6 percent from three point range and 92.9 percent from the line. He has also posted one of the best postseason games in league history during these playoffs with a 48-point performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder. The 48 points isn’t even the most remarkable part. In getting to those 48 points, Nowitzki shot an unreal 12-15 from the field and a perfect 24-24 from the line.
Dirk may fly under the radar, but what he has at stake in the upcoming NBA Finals is certainly headline grabbing, newsworthy stuff. Nowitzki is taking his second crack at grabbing the elusive championship ring that every great player in the NBA needs to solidify their career. He is attempting to do it against the team that foiled his first opportunity, a gut-wrenching, controversy filled 2006 NBA Finals loss to the Heat in six games. The gut-wrenching part is the fact that the Mavs had a 2-0 series lead and a double-digit fourth quarter lead in Game Three before collapsing to lose that game and the next three games, giving the series to Miami. The controversial part is the perceived advantage that the referees gave Miami throughout the series, especially at the end of Games 3 and 5. Not only does Dirk have the pressure of trying to win his and the Mavericks first championship, but he has to get revenge as well for a series Dallas should have never lost five years ago.
So if you are ever going to pay attention to Dirk Nowitzki now’s the time. He’s got a lot on his plate; a legacy to complete, a championship to win for a championship-starved franchise and a team to beat that almost no one outside of Miami wants to see win. While you’re paying attention to Dirk, though, don’t expect to be awed or wowed. Well, unless ridiculous consistency and an unblockable shot get you excited.