Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on Friday night's vengeance against the Nuggets, how the rest has helped, staying focused on the next game and more.

It looks like the DNP-Rest worked out for Dirk Nowitzki once again.

The “strategic rest,” as Rick Carlisle calls it, kept Dirk out of the game in Denver Wednesday night, along with Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler, both of whom were nursing minor injuries. After shooting 5-of-13 the night before against the Kings, it was a decision Dirk agreed with.

“I was already a step slow in (Sacramento) so I think it was just a decision that made sense,” Nowitzki said. “I thought the boys did well, we competed all the way to the end.”

It was the third game this season Nowitzki has missed for rest purposes. All three have come on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 2-1 in those games, and after Friday’s win against the Nuggets the Mavs are 2-1 in the contests following strategic rest games. In the three games following nights off, Nowitzki is averaging 19 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists.

Just a few years ago it would have been unheard of for Carlisle to hold Nowitzki out of a game just so he could rest. But now that the Big German is 36 — and, more importantly, now that he’s surrounded with more talent than perhaps ever before — the Mavs head coach feels he has the freedom to rest his superstar and still have a real shot at winning games.

“The strategic rest games are really important with the long haul of the season,” Carlisle said. “When he sits, we’ve got to be able to win games without him. We fought and gave ourselves a chance the other night and we won the other two games when we played without him. It’s work, it’s work, but we have confidence in the other guys.”

It speaks volumes that Carlisle trusts everyone else to play good ball even without such a big focal point of the offense sits. Even without three starters Wednesday night in Denver, the Mavs were shooting to tie the game in the closing minutes before finally falling 114-107. Eight players reached double-figures in scoring, including big man Dwight Powell, who received heavy minutes for the first time as a Maverick. Usual reserves Richard Jefferson, Greg Smith, and Raymond Felton started that game. Felton, in particular, hasn’t played big minutes this season due to a lengthy recovery from a nasty high ankle sprain suffered during the preseason.

Dirk hasn’t looked like a different player, per se, in the games following days off. Even on paper, his numbers don’t necessarily impress unless you consider them in context. For example, his first game following a strategic rest, in Chicago, went to double overtime. He played 42 minutes that night but saved his hottest shooting for the end of that game, shooting 6-of-12 from the field in the fourth quarter and beyond for 15 points, five boards, and six assists. Had he played the game before, who knows if he has enough left in the tank for two full overtimes?

Then there’s Friday’s Denver game, in which Nowitzki scored 10 points in the first few minutes of the game and hit four threes overall, just the third time all season he’s hit four treys in one game. The Mavs worked through Dirk all night long — he finished with a sky-high 30.5 usage rate — a gameplan that’s much more effective when he’s playing on fresh legs. He finished with 25 points and nine boards on the night, both above his season averages of 18.7 and 5.9, respectively.

One of the beauties of having a team as deep as this one is the best players can have off-days or days off and the club will still have a chance to win games. It’s unclear how often Carlisle will rest Nowitzki or the other starters following the All-Star break as the pressure of the playoff push picks up, but in many respects that’s what all of these days off are for: keeping Dirk and the gang fresh when the games grow more stressful both physically and mentally. The NBA season is an 82-game marathon, not a series of 82 100-meter dashes. That’s an important philosophical distinction, and we’re seeing it play out for the first time since the lockout-shortened season when Jason Kidd would occasionally sit out one game in a back-to-back set.

Fortunately, the Mavs only have eight back-to-backs remaining on their 2014-15 schedule, meaning their busy first-half schedule will ease up in terms of workload in the second half. It’s a fair trade-off, as games are going to start having heavier and heavier playoff implications. But this year, we know Dirk will be ready to roll because of what happened during games 1-41.

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