After a gritty road victory over the up and coming Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Dallas Mavericks were finally able to punch their ticket to the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
It has been an up and down season for this edition of the Mavs. Slated starters like Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams missing a combined 38 games due to injury and a third in Wesley Matthews is still likely trying to reach 100% following his Achilles injury from just over 13 months ago.
The 2015-2016 campaign would best be described as “streaky” as there were losing and winning streaks of 3 or more games sprinkled all throughout the schedule. In their last 20 games, Dallas is 9-11. Those 20 games include a stretch where the Mavs lost 10 of 12 games. That stretch concluded on March 27th with the Mavericks getting destroyed in Sacramento by the Kings and falling to a season low three games under .500 with just nine games to go. Since then, Dallas has rattled off seven wins in nine games to guarantee they will be playing postseason ball. A satisfying result for a team with a plethora of hungry veteran players who wouldn’t want to play for anything less.
While the team’s recent surge can be credited to the likes of J.J. Barea or the youthful energy spark from rookie Justin Anderson, the heart and soul of this Mavericks organization now and for the better part of two decades has been Dirk Nowitzki.
The 18-year veteran has averaged over 18 points per game this season at the age of 37 and even has a 40 point game in the past month. His 40 point explosion against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 20th put him in the elite company of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to score 40 points in a game after their 37th birthday.
Nowitzki scored 22 points and added 11 rebounds as the win put the Mavs back in the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons. Let’s repeat that last part again: 15 times in 16 seasons. If that sounds impressive, it’s because it definitely is. Only the five-time champion San Antonio Spurs can boast that they have more playoff appearances in that stretch.
Of those fifteen playoff seasons, twelve of those have been 50+ win seasons. That includes a stretch of 11 straight seasons with more than 50 wins from 2000-2011. Again, something only the Spurs can better.
It bears repeating that Nowitzki has been the mainstay for this franchise through this era of success. The Big German has seen at least a couple hundred teammates, three different head coaches and countless tough stretches in his career with the Mavericks. However, he has been the model of consistency since the year 2000.
The average Dirk season over the last 16 years has been nothing short of phenomenal: 22.7 points and 7.7 rebounds while leading his team to, again, 15 playoff appearances in 16 seasons.
The only time the Mavs have missed the playoffs since the year 2000 was the 2012-2013 where Nowitzki missed first 27 games of the season due to a preseason knee surgery, the team fell to 13-23 at one point in mid-January and was still able to battle back to a .500 record by the end of the season. The Mavs were missing essentially their franchise for a third of the season and were only 4 games back of the 8th seeded Houston Rockets when the season had finished.
It just shows everyone that this franchise is one of the model franchises in all of sports. A lot of credit is due to the stability in their front office with owner Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson, but the face of the franchise through it all has been Dirk Nowitzki. One of the all-time greats of the sport. He has worn a Mavericks jersey and given this city his all for close to two decades.
The extreme level of consistency has essentially allowed most Dallas fans to take Nowitzki and the Mavs for granted. When they were winning 50+ games and easily marching into the playoffs each year of the first decade of the century, all we thought was, “Okay so why didn’t they win it all?” What we should have been saying was, “We couldn’t be luckier to have a player like this leading our team.”
Don’t take Nowitzki for granted, Dallas. The man still has it even though he’s just about 26 months from turning 40. Another Dirk-led Mavs team is back in the playoffs and it’s time to root hard for him and his teammates to make whatever noise possible in their upcoming first round series. You know Dirk’s going to give his all, are you?
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