DALLAS – No one knows for sure if this is the final NBA season for Dallas Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki.

However, after Nowitzki spent 21 years toiling in the NBA while racking up plenty of mileage on his weary body, coach Rick Carlisle knows exactly what the 40-year old will be searching for whenever he does decide to retire.

“For Dirk, it’s a labor of love, it’s a love for the game, it’s a love to compete, it’s a love of this franchise, organization and city,” Carlisle said following Thursday’s practice at the Lympo practice facilities. “I don’t know what’s going to happen beyond this year.

“But I do know that when we get to the end of the season this year he will have put every ounce of energy and everything he has out there. And I would think that he might sleep like Rip Van Winkle after this.”

While Nowitzki won’t do exactly like Van Winkle, who fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains and woke up some 20 years later, Carlisle’s analogy is duly noted. In the meantime, center Dwight Powell said this entire season a lot of the players have thought that this could be their last year playing with Nowitzki if he decides to retire.

So they’ve been doing their own due diligence in trying to capture various moments whenever they’re on the court with Nowitzki or in his company off the court.

“You try and cherish the moments and do our best to kind of give him the kind of right send-off,” Powell said. “Obviously the (Mavs’ 31-47) record (isn’t) really reflective of that.

“All of us are very blessed to have played with him and be on the same team with him, and we try to not take any of that for granted. And as it kind of winds down, seeing just how massive of an effect he’s had on this community and on this league and on the sport in general, it’s just something that everyone here has been cherishing, and you make the most of.”

Ever since the Mavs acquired him in a trade with the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18, 2014, Powell himself has been making the most of his time with Nowitzki. He acknowledged that he “can list a thousand things” in the way Nowitzki taught him how to approach a game in a professional manner.

“Probably the most important is just the value of work hard and dedicated practice and focus time on the court,” Powell said. “He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever seen, and from day one when I came here as a rookie trying to figure out a way to stay in this league and find a niche for myself — I try to get in here early and stay after practice — he was always here before me and stayed after.

“So I was lucky that the example he set, I thought was just how it was for everyone and that’s just how it’s supposed to be, so that’s what I did. I spent as much time here as I could and worked on my game – every facet from top to bottom – in preparation for whatever opportunities may come, and he kind of set that example and he set it for all of us. For all of our young guys and even (veterans) coming in, his work ethic is unmatched. His dedication to perfecting his craft and his pursuit of perfection in greatness is truly inspiration.”

Powell views Nowitzki as a trailblazer in that he bucked the NBA system and showed that 7-foot men could indeed leave the painted area around the basket and venture out beyond the 3-point line and still make an indelible impression on the game.

“I think he definitely revolutionized the game as far as being a 7-footer who’s got a back-to-the-basket game and can space the floor to (the) three (point) line,” Powell said. “With these highlights now coming out from his glory days of him just handling the ball in the full-court and doing things that traditionally weren’t necessarily expected of big men, he definitely paved the way for a lot of us and created a new lane for us to be successful in.”

Carlisle, who became the Mavs’ coach in 2008, has been steadily watching Nowitzki become the driving force in that “new lane.” Nowitzki has given Carlisle numerous memories to relish, especially in 2011 when he put the team on his back and led the Mavs to their only world championship.

“I’ve been soaking it in for 11 years, really,” Carlisle said. “It’s just an amazingly unique experience to be with a player like this who has such historic significance and has such humility and is such a great teammate.

“But it’s been very heart-warming to see the receptions that he’s gotten in visiting arenas all year long. And our arena right now is juiced up, because of the fact that this could be (Nowitzki’s) last two or three games. I get it and I’m right with them and I’m enjoying every second.”

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