Monday, April 21, 2008

The Mavs and manhood

Dirk Nowitzki’s manhood is being questioned -- again. The TNT crew took Nowitzki and the Mavericks to task for their response (or more accurately, lack thereof) to this: David West touching Nowitzki’s face as the two squared off after getting tangled up late in the fourth quarter of the Hornets’ come-from-behind victory in Game 1 on Saturday.

Kenny Smith said he would have pointed out what happened to one of his team’s enforcers -- notably, Otis Thorpe, who then would have taken care of the situation. Magic Johnson said there shouldn’t have been a need to point it out. Everybody saw what happened. The enforcers should have taken care of it themselves. Charles Barkley, not surprisingly, said that someone should have smacked West (i.e., let him drive to the hoop the next time down and hammer him).

It obviously would have been stupid for Nowitzki or anyone else to react with a punch that would have resulted in a suspension, but the TNT guys are right. You have to do something. Right then. Right there. Nowitzki, at the very least, should have slapped his hand away. Someone, anyone, on the Mavs should have rushed over and got in West’s face. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the playoffs allowing this to happen, except maybe Tracy McGrady, but at least he would have been defended by a number of teammates.

Does the fact that none of the Mavericks defended Nowitzki say more about them and their toughness? Or does it say more about their feelings toward Nowitzki? I mean, it’s clear that this team isn’t loaded with toughness, as evidenced by how they wilted when the Hornets made their second-half surge. Jerry Stackhouse is probably their toughest guy. Where was he?

Last year Avery Johnson sent an ominous message to his team prior to the series with Golden State: Even though we won 67 games, we aren’t good enough to beat the No. 8 seed unless we make a lineup change. I don't think the outcome would have changed, but wow, if you just won 67 games, you do your thing and make the opponent adjust, right?

This year the ominous message came from the Hornets, courtesy of David West: We can out-physical you and impose our will on you and your best player, and not he nor anyone else on your team can or will do anything about it.

I'm curious if Dallas responds now simply because of the attention this incident has received, although it's usually easy to spot when someone soft is trying to act tough. I think the lack of immediate response speaks volumes.

The Mavericks, of course, certainly could win Game 2 and most of this could be forgotten. But it is a disturbing development. There are plenty of manhood situations in NBA playoff games (just watch underneath the basket on every possession in the Pistons-76ers series), and if one team won’t stand its ground, eventually it will get shoved out of the way -- literally and figuratively.

Dirk’s comments (Dallas Morning News)

UPDATE: Avery Johnson: "We need players to not back down from anybody," Johnson said. "That's what the playoffs are all about. More than Dirk doing something about it, I would have liked for somebody else on the team, preferably at the center position, to do something about it." Full report