Healthy Nowitzki ready for Mavericks matchup vs. Grizzlies
When the Memphis Grizzlies visit the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, it won't be like old times for these longtime Southwest Division rivals. Both franchises, once fixtures in the Western Conference championship hunt, are stuck at the bottom of the standings and are undergoing major overhauls.
The Grizzlies sent face-of-the-franchise Marc Gasol to Toronto at the trade deadline to begin the process of rebuilding. The Mavs certainly have a leg up in that process, having struck gold in last year's draft, trading with the Atlanta Hawks to acquire runaway rookie-of-the-year candidate Luka Doncic, and trading for 7-foot-3 center/forward Kristaps Porzingis.
In the process of deal-making for Porzingis and clearing salary cap space to make a run at key free agents this summer, Dallas traded away four of its starters, and have since watched its offense get bogged down and rely heavily on Doncic, who turned 20 years old on Thursday.
However, Dallas does enter Saturday's game following an impressive home win over the Indiana Pacers to snap a five-game losing skid. And while Doncic's play continues to inspire hope for the future, the team's star of the last two decades, Dirk Nowitzki, has finally started to show that he might be as healthy as he's been all season since offseason ankle surgery kept him sidelined until mid-December.
Nowitzki had been coming off the bench and playing only limited minutes until coach Rick Carlisle opted to insert him into the starting lineup for the last three games. In those games, the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, now just 68 points from passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, has averaged 12.7 points with eight 3-pointers on 36 percent shooting from deep, and 4.0 rebounds in 24.3 minutes.
While Nowitzki has been receiving celebratory sendoffs at each visiting arena, he has still yet to declare that his 21st season with Dallas will be his last. His recent play even has some speculating he could return for a 22nd season and provide leadership for the start of the Doncic-Porzingis era.
After scoring 11 points with five rebounds and three assists in the win over Indiana on Tuesday, Nowitzki was asked if his uptick is making him think about sidestepping retirement for another year.
"I don't know, I haven't really thought about it," Nowitzki said. "I would love to be there for the young guys one more year, but I think it depends on how the body feels. I've had issues, obviously, this year. I had some knee swelling here the last few weeks, actually before the All-Star break, so it's not all great. But, like I said, I am feeling better. I am feeling stronger."
Memphis' rebuild direction isn't nearly as clear. And now the rest of this season looks even murkier with impressive rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. sidelined indefinitely with a right quad injury. Jackson, 19, had played in 58 of the team's 59 games and is averaging 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. Memphis had planned to make him the focal point in the final quarter of the season.
"At this point for him, it's not something we're willing to risk," Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff told the Memphis Commercial Appeal about Jackson's health. "So, we'll be cautious with him."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2019