Gil LeBreton

Elimination from NBA playoffs looms for Plan B Dallas Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks has shown plenty of heart in the playoffs, whether it was in a game or on the bench.
Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks has shown plenty of heart in the playoffs, whether it was in a game or on the bench.

The moment was lost on TV. There was a timeout, and they were probably showing one of those “Settlers” commercials, where the husband is happy to plow the front yard and the son plays with his stick and hoop.

What you missed at home was Dirk Nowitzki, and he wasn’t settling for anything.

Try as they might, the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t chisel down the sizable rock — an ongoing 10-point deficit — that the Oklahoma City Thunder had handed them in Game 4.

Yet, there was Dirk, still dreaming the dream, standing in front of the Mavericks bench, waving his giant wingspan, animatedly trying to make a coaching point to his perspiring teammates.

He’s no settler. And that, in large part, is why Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea version 2.0 will be in Oklahoma City on Monday night, teetering on the edge of NBA playoff elimination.

Zaza is in his 12th year in the league, Barea is in his ninth, and Raymond Felton is playing in his 10th season, as is Deron Williams, who is injured and didn’t make the trip. Dirk, in case you’re counting, is in season No. 17.

These are “mature” guys — seasoned NBA veterans. They’re in Oklahoma City, but it’s not their first rodeo. They know the long odds that face teams who are down three games to one.

They’re old. They were Plan B. They are in Mavericks uniforms because Plan A, ownership’s eternal return-to-the-Finals plan, didn’t work out.


While free agent DeAndre Jordan was playing hide-and-seek with Mavs owner Mark Cuban last summer, Nowitzki wasn’t getting any younger. Spurned in the end by the sophomoric Jordan, Cuban could have settled for a roster garage sale of what he was left with.

But what about Dirk? What’s fair to him? And to the city and the fans who love him?

Plan B performed gallantly, as it turned out. Williams, Felton, Matthews, Barea and Pachulia represented the franchise proudly. It was, for the most part, a fun team to watch, even if the first-stringers only got to play together for 38 games.

That they weren’t as good as a young lineup with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams is no NBA scoop.

As coach Rick Carlisle said after Game 4, “We just have to keep playing them as hard as we did tonight. There is no team that’s playing harder than we are right now.”

He may be right. But for three of the four games in the series, Oklahoma City has led from the first minute to the last.

Stranger things have happened — Game 2 in this very series comes to mind — but Monday’s outcome looms as a formality.

Durant probably will receive a warning, not a suspension, from the league office for his flagrant foul on Justin Anderson in the final minute of Saturday’s game. The Mavericks will miss Williams’ presence and defense. The Thunder will be energized by a home crowd that smells Mavericks blood in the water.

And for Cuban’s team, it will next be the off-season again.

Will they settle? Dirk never will.

At age 37, even though some of his offensive tricks have had to be retrofitted, Nowitzki still plays with exceptional heart. Against maybe the longest playoff odds of his career, he has turned in one of his best postseason performances.

The same can be said of Carlisle, the other guy at Mavs, Inc., who doesn’t like to settle.

During the timeout Saturday that you didn’t see on TV, Carlisle appeared to defer for a few seconds to Dirk’s wing-flapping instruction. Nowitzki’s pilot light refuses to dim.

He’s not the problem. He remains part of the plan.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton@star-, @gilebreton

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