Mavs hope Dirk Nowitzki’s health, relentlessness carry team to more wins in ’17-18

DALLAS — He was forced to sit out 25 of the Dallas Mavericks’ first 30 games during the 2016-17 season, battling his way back from a nagging right Achilles strain while his team got off to a sluggish start. Now, after finishing with a 33-49 record last year without their franchise player in the lineup much of the schedule, the Mavericks hope a healthy Dirk Nowitzki can carry them to more wins during the upcoming season.

Suffering an Achilles injury during the first game of the season after scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a 130-121 overtime road loss at Indiana on Oct. 26, Nowitzki was later sidelined from Nov. 6-21 while rehabbing his way back onto the court. The 13-time All-Star then returned for two games before being sidelined again, missing action from Nov. 27 to Dec. 21. All told, Nowitzki finished his 19th season averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, connecting on 43.7 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range in 54 appearances. But after playing in the fewest number of outings since his rookie year, Nowitzki says he hopes to give his team more of a boost during the ’17-18 campaign.

“My Achilles just wasn’t right for a long, long time, and I basically had to fight my way back from scratch,” Nowitzki admitted after the conclusion of the ’16-17 season. “The work I did that summer was basically out the window, and I had to fight my way back the whole season, so that was tough at times. I was frustrated and disappointed at times, because it wasn’t going quick enough for me. But the last couple of weeks (of the season) I felt good. I felt good moving basically until the end. I played almost every game there and played back-to-backs some even, so I’m looking forward to doing the same program. Maybe with a few tweaks here and there, and I’ll sit together with the trainers and be ready for camp. Everything is moved up a little bit, so I’ll be ready again and hopefully stay injury-free to play as many games as I can.”

Signing a reported two-year contract worth $10 million to return to the Mavericks this summer in free agency, Nowitzki will have a chance to add to his growing list of milestones during his 20th season. He’ll also try to lead the Mavs back to the playoffs, hoping to remain healthy while producing a bounce-back season.

Last season, Nowitzki (30,260) joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) in the NBA’s exclusive 30,000-point club. He also became just the third player in league history to score 30,000 points with one franchise, joining Malone and Bryant on that short list. He’s now just 1,159 points away from tying Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list, hoping to reach that mark this upcoming season. But with the 39-year-old poised to join Bryant as the sole members of the league’s 20-year, only-one-team club this season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle believes the 7-footer would rather lead the franchise to more success than achieve personal accolades. And according to Carlisle, boosting the team to more wins will be Nowitzki’s sole motivation this season.

“This is one of the truly magnificent players in the history of our league. He’s been a rock this year, and it was really tough for him to sit 24 or 25 games at the beginning and watch us get our (tails) kicked the way we did,” Carlisle explained. “You know, he stays positive. He encourages everybody, and then when he gets healthy it always takes a little while for him to get his rhythm and stuff like that. But he’s unrelenting as a positive leader and as a positive leader of this franchise and city.

“Being that guy is something that a lot of us really don’t understand,” the coach added. “It’s a responsibility unlike anything you can imagine, when you are the guy that is openly desiring the responsibility for winning and losing games and winning and losing championships. I’ve been around some of the very best, and these guys are beyond special.”

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