Two things we know about the Big German: he has been less than conditioned this season, and he responds to a good insult.
Dirk has had a hard time getting going in the 15 games since his return from preseason knee surgery. One of the NBA’s preeminent scorers is averaging only 13.9 points per game. He has been taking less shots, making a lower percentage of those shots, and getting to the free throw line less than any time since his rookie season. The four-day layoff may not be much help to any of the other streaking Mavericks, but it should do wonders for Dirk. His legs have been missing all season, and I fully expect to see the best version of Nowitzki tonight.
Last year, when Dirk found himself in a similar early season struggle, it was a barb from Charles Barkley that seemed to get Nowitzki going. He found his form directly after Sir Charles claimed that father time never loses when discussing Dirk’s poor play. We saw another example of Dirk turning insult to motivation when he scored 50 on Tim Thomas after Thomas thought it smart to blow Dirk a kiss. Apparently Germans don’t appreciate emasculating humor. This season, Dirk misses his first all-star game in 10 years, and even for the humble Nowitzki, the pain of that will ding his ego.
These two factors combine to tell me Dirk Nowitzki will break the 30 point barrier for the first time this season tonight against the Spurs. At the end of the season, we’ll look back at this game as the game where Dirk turned it around, and the rest of the NBA took notice.
Oh, and Tim Duncan being absent doesn’t hurt.