After getting the start for the twelfth time this season, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t see any action in the second half of Tuesday night’s 125-121 loss to the Sacramento Kings. After struggling though a lingering left ankle injury for the first part of the season, his absence could have been concerning for the Dallas Mavericks’ 40-year-old icon. Fortunately, the reason Nowitzki sat was for strategic reasons.
“At halftime, [Nowitzki] actually said he would prefer to come back in off the bench, pending what the matchup was going to be,” head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “It was tough when they didn’t bring [Kosta] Koufos back, it was a tough deal. I was talking to him during the second half and we pretty much agreed it would be tough to get him back in there, especially as cold as he was at that point.”
The Mavericks started the game off slowly, ceding the Kings a decent lead early, which is why Nowitzki thought it best for the team to go with Maxi Kleber to start the second half. Kleber is quicker and able to defend the pick and roll better against the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley III. Nowitzki finished the night with nine points on 3-6 shooting to go along with two rebounds in almost 11 minutes.
“Here’s a guy with 32,000 points that’s willing not to start the second half because the matchups were tough and we’d gotten off to a rough start at the beginning of the game,” Carlisle said.
Selflessness aside, it’s clear that Nowitzki knows his limitations at this point in his career. He’s not as agile as he used to be. As for how he’s feeling now, though, Nowitzki said that his body is finally where he hoped it would’ve been in December after coming back from his injury. Unfortunately, his return to form coincides with the conclusion of the season for Dallas. The Mavericks only have eight games remaining. While we don’t know what the future holds for the Big German, he’s playing with a sense of joy again.
“At least I’m at the point,” Nowitzki said, “where I can enjoy myself and have some fun with the guys, play efficient and enjoy the game.”