HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – During the 2011 Western Conference finals, Dirk Nowitzki called Kevin Durant the future of the NBA. The future is now, complete with Durant, named an All-Star starter this week for a third consecutive time, bringing Nowitzki’s old-world, one-legged leaner with him.
The All-Star Game starters are a good way to judge the passing of one era and the beginning of another. Just look, other than Kobe Bryant, 34, in the West, and Kevin Garnett, 36 (and maybe an aging Dwyane Wade, 31), in the East, it’s a young man’s game.
Nowitzki, 34, a fixture on 11 consecutive West All-Star teams (albeit all but once as a reserve), realizes his streak is coming to an end, just as Tim Duncan, 36, saw his run of 13 consecutive All-Star appearances and 12 consecutive starts, end a year ago.
“It’s obviously a disappointing streak to end, but it is what it is,” Nowitzki told reporters this week. “I had fun representing the Mavs all these years, but it was a tough year for me with injuries. I guess those four days I’m going to enjoy and get a good amount of work in as well and get recharged for the second half of the season.”
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19. He has not been the same Dirk since, averaging just 14.0 ppg on 41.0 percent shooting. A career 87.7 percent free throw shooter, he’s hitting just 77.6 percent in his 14 games back, including unusual critical misses in several games. The Mavs, struggling at 17-24, are just 5-9 since his highly anticipated return.
Dirk’s All-Star streak could have ended last season when right knee trouble slowed him in the first half of the season. Even he said other forwards deserved to go more than he did, but Western Conference coaches awarded the 2011 Finals MVP with a nod as a reserve.
It doesn’t mean Nowitzki can’t make it back next season, especially if he starts the season on two good knees. Duncan is having a tremendous year in his 16th season and is a leading candidate to be selected as a West reserve.
But this is not how Nowitzki envisioned this season, which threatens to keep him out of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. In Saturday night’s 117-114 loss to Oklahoma City, he missed 10 of his first 11 shots and finished with 18 points on 5-for-19 shooting in a season-high 41 minutes.
“I have to keep working, I don’t know what else to say,” Nowitzki said after the game. “I had some great looks even there in the first half. It’s almost a tragedy that they don’t go in.”