Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki credits Paul Pierce with making him better

Dirk Nowitzki credits Paul Pierce with making him better

BOSTON – Once Dirk Nowitzki finishes his NBA career, he will be remembered as the greatest international player in NBA history.

And while no one disputes his career has been nothing short of amazing, Nowitzki says he had added motivation to go out and steadily improve.

That added motivation goes by the name of Paul Pierce, whose jersey No. 34 will be retired after today’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Both Pierce and Nowitzki were part of the 1998 draft class, with Nowitzki going ninth overall to Milwaukee (they traded his rights immediately to Dallas) with Pierce being selected right after him with the 10th overall pick by Boston.

Being drafted right next to each would bring about comparisons.

Early on, that was not a good thing for Nowitzki, who struggled at both ends of the floor, prompting some hecklers to refer to him as “Irk Nowitzki” because he didn’t play defense.

He averaged 8.2 points per game in his first season.

Meanwhile, Pierce’s transition to the NBA seemed relatively smooth on the floor.

Pierce was a strong contender for the league’s rookie of the year award, averaging 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

“Paul came out the gate, played unbelievable right away,” Nowitzki recalled. “That put a lot of heat on me in Dallas.”

But in time, Nowitzki developed into the franchise player Dallas was hoping for and now ranks among the NBA’s all-time greats in several categories.

And Nowitzki credits the example set by Pierce as being a motivating factor in his evolution into one of the NBA’s better players for more than a decade.

“It made me work, pushed me to work hard and get better in the summer and add new things,” said Nowitzki, a 13-time All-Star, league MVP (2007), NBA Finals champion and Finals MVP (2011). “He’s been tremendous for this franchise.

Nowitzki added, “Just a clutch gene he had, the big-time shots he made. He really was the whole package offensively. You couldn’t send him one way to shoot. He could post with the best of them. He was the complete package and it’s been fun and an honor to compete against him for a long, long time.”


Another 47 from Kyrie vs. Mavs? Wouldn't surprise Carlisle


Another 47 from Kyrie vs. Mavs? Wouldn't surprise Carlisle

BOSTON – Those “M-V-P” chants you hear from Celtics fans when Kyrie Irving is on the free-throw line, will likely be alive and well tonight at some point against the Dallas Mavericks.

But the locals aren’t the only ones who see the four-time All-Star as deserving to be in the MVP conversation.


“He’s a legit MVP candidate,” said Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle.

He certainly looked like one the last time Boston played the Mavericks, a game in which Irving scored 47 points, the most he has scored since becoming a Celtic.

“He’s a great player,” Carlisle said. “He did virtually anything he wanted. So we have to give more resistance and make it tougher on him.”

That will be a lot easier said than done, especially with Irving playing some of his most efficient basketball like, ever.

He’s averaging 23.5 points per game, shooting a career-best 48.7 percent from the field.

In his past five games, Irving has shot 50 percent in four of them while shooting 52.1 percent overall in the span.

“When one guy goes for 47 points, it’s going to be hard to beat that team,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of those players, you gotta try and do something to slow him down a little bit.”

Here’s a look at five below-the-radar storylines to keep tabs on as the Celtics (21-4) look to close out their five-game homestand with another victory:

At 39, tonight may be the last time Dirk Nowitzki plays in front of the TD Garden crowd. While he has given no indications that he plans to retire, it’s clearly an option for Nowitzki who is now in his 20th NBA season. While Nowitzki doesn’t dominate games the way we’ve seen him in past years, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved upon facets of his game even at this advanced stage of his career. Nowitzki, averaging just 11.1 points per game, comes into tonight’s matchup shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range which would a career-high if he maintained it for the rest of the season.

Jayson Tatum has shot the 3-ball better than any player this season, but by no means are the Celtics a team with just one long-range shooter. As a team, Boston has stepped up its 3-point shooting across the board. That’s why in the past six games, the Celtics are shooting 43.4 percent on 3’s which ranks third in the league in that span.

Dallas has won four of its past six since losing to the Celtics. And the key to that newfound success has been their defense. In those six games, the Mavericks have a defensive rating of 101.0, which ranks fourth in the league in that span. Dallas also ranks in top 10 in defensive rebound percentage, opponent points off turnovers; opponent second-chance points; opponent points in the paint.

While Dallas’ defense has improved, the Mavericks still have trouble getting back while limiting opponent’s transition offense. For the season, Dallas ranks 28th in opponent fast-break points with 14.1 allowed per game. And in the past six games, their transition defense has been even worse - giving up 17.7 points via fast breaks - which is the most of any team in the league in that span.

Both Boston and Dallas are getting quality production from some of the youngest players in the NBA. Second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum are in the starting lineup for Boston and have proven themselves to be significant contributors to a Celtics team that boasts the best record in the NBA. Dallas has a star on the rise of its own, in Dennis Smith Jr. who comes into tonight’s game averaging 14.5 points along with 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.



30 teams in 30 days: Have Mavs gotten Dirk enough help?


30 teams in 30 days: Have Mavs gotten Dirk enough help?

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Dallas Mavericks.

When it comes to the Dallas Mavericks, everything essentially begins and ends with Dirk Nowitzki.
The future Hall of Famer is entering his 20th NBA season and still ranks among the tougher players to defend in the NBA.

But Father Time is gaining ground on the Nowitzki, 39, which is why the Mavericks have wisely added the kind of talent around him the past couple of years that should take some of the scoring burden off his shoulders and, just as important, put the Mavs back into contention for a playoff spot after failing to get there last season following a stretch of reaching the postseason 15 out of 16 years.
The Mavericks will look to bounce back from a 33-49 season, one in which injuries played a major factor in the team’s struggles.
Nowitzki appeared in just 54 games last season, averaging 14.2 points - the fewest he averaged since his rookie season (8.9 points).
Among the few Mavs to stay relatively healthy was Harrison Barnes, who led the team with 19.5 points per game average while appearing in 79 games.
Dallas had a solid season defensively and solidified their interior by trading for Nerlens Noel in February.
A restricted free agent this past summer, Noel and the Mavericks were unable to come to terms on a long-term contract. And without the benefit of an offer sheet, Noel had no leverage in getting the kind of near-max salary he was seeking.
So, he eventually signed a one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer.
One of the main areas the Mavericks will look to improve upon this season is scoring after averaging a league-low 97.9 points per game.
Having better team health overall will help, as will the addition of high-scoring combo guard Dennis Smith Jr.
Selected by Dallas with the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft, the 6-foot-2 guard did a little bit of everything in his lone season with North Carolina State, where he averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game.
He was just as impressive in helping lead the Mavs to a 5-1 summer league record in Las Vegas, earning a spot on the NBA All-Summer League first team by averaging 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions:
Josh McRoberts (Miami); Jeff Withey (Utah).
Key losses: None.
Rookies of note: Dennis Smith Jr.
37-45 (third in the Southwest Division,10th in the West).