Mavs Will Look to Dirk in Game 2

4-24-07 - Dirk Nowitzki is tall enough to shoot over almost anyone. He's accurate enough to shoot from almost anywhere.

Yet surround him with a bunch of pesky defenders and the big German struggles. Case in point: Game 1 of the playoffs against Golden State.

With a variety of guys between 6-foot-3 and 6-9 charging at and swarming around the 7-footer, Nowitzki had one of his worst games of the season. Not surprisingly, the Dallas Mavericks did, too.

So while coach Avery Johnson will consider all kinds of things to get his team rolling again for Game 2 Wednesday night, what he needs most is for his best player to start playing up to expectations.

"He's got to bounce back," Johnson said. "I don't think we're that good when he shoots 4-for-16."

Nowitzki scored 14 points in Game 1, about 11 below his season average. He was on the bench during the Mavericks' best spurt, a third-quarter rally that took them from four points down to four points up. Soon after he returned, Nowitzki hit a jumper that put Dallas ahead by five, then he didn't make another basket the rest of the game, covering more than 16 minutes.

Nowitzki missed both 3-pointers he tried in the opener. He also missed two free throws, which might not seem like much until you realize he hadn't missed that many in 17 games.

A few more ugly details: His .250 shooting percentage matched his season low and the four field goals were his fewest since ... the last time he faced Golden State.

"They're really all over me as soon as I put the ball down," Nowitzki said. "They're really running at me hard. They're fronting me in the post, front and back sometimes if I have it. Everybody's on alert. As soon as I put it down, they're coming."

Basketball 101 teaches that a guy his size shouldn't put it down. He should be fed the ball down low and feast on chip shots from close range, especially when covered by smaller defenders.

But Nowitzki's game was built around defying conventional wisdom. He has few low-post moves, but has won the 3-point contest during All-Star weekend. His style has landed him third in MVP voting the last two years and he's likely to be first or second this time around after leading Dallas to 67 wins.

One wrinkle he's added to his game this year is better passing out of double teams. He averaged a career-best 3.4 assists and flirted with his first triple-double several times. He's already realizing that getting rid of the ball may be how he helps his team the most in this series.

"I have to find teammates when they're open, move the ball, just be active out there, be a threat and see if we can win that way," he said.

The Mavericks haven't beaten the Warriors in any way this season. Golden State is 4-0 against Dallas, with six straight wins dating to last season.

The Warriors' success this year can be traced to coach Don Nelson and his knowledge of Nowitzki, gained by having coaching him for the first seven years of his NBA career. That experience also has taught Nelson to expect a big performance Wednesday night -- although the over-the-top way he said it Tuesday sure smacks of another Nellie stunt.

"We got a better chance to get hit with lightning than to win the game," Nelson proclaimed.

He also continued hammering his theme that the Warriors are just happy to be in the playoffs.

"We're just trying to seize the moment, enjoy that, have a little fun with it. So nobody's uptight," he said. "Relax. What's the worst thing that could happen? You could looooooose?! Big deal. I mean, we've lost 40 games this year already."

Dallas has lost five straight postseason games, starting with four in a row in last year's NBA finals. On their way to the final round last year, the Mavericks overcame Game 1 losses to San Antonio and Phoenix. They overcame an 0-2 hole, with both losses coming at home, against Houston the previous year.

"So this team is mentally strong," Nowitzki said. "We've got to show it. We've got to be a little more crisp and we'll get the job done."

The Mavericks also could use some scoring options besides Nowitzki. No other starter shot 50 percent and high-scoring reserve Jerry Stackhouse was shut out, going 0-for-6.

"Everybody's got to play better," Stackhouse said. "It's not about us just helping Dirk, it's about helping ourselves."