Regaining his All-Star form, Dirk Nowitzki sets his eyes on another title run

DALLAS — Recapturing his All-Star form after an injury-riddled 2012-13 season that kept him sidelined for 29 games, Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki showed that his illustrious career is far from over.

Ascending to 10th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and making his 12th All-Star team, Nowitzki boosted the Mavericks back to the playoffs following a 49-33 season. He then led the Mavs to war against Southwest Division rival and top-seeded San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs before falling in seven games.┬áNow, Nowitzki enters an offseason in which he turns 36 years old, possibly signing his last contract when he hits free agency on July 1.

“Yeah, the big 36. I’m knocking at the door,” Nowitzki joked when addressing the media during his exit interview following the team’s first-round exit. “You know, it’s crazy that 16 years are in the books. It’s actually a little sad but also exciting. It’s been a crazy ride, and I was excited this year that I played 80 games, which nobody really saw coming after last season. So, I’m happy about that, that I could compete every night and try to be out there for the team every night. So, yeah, if I feel like that, I still think I can play a couple more years at a high level. And we’ve just got to wait and see. … The year before I was a little worried with the knee injury and not getting going for a long, long time. But this year I felt a lot better about my body and my health, so I still think that I can play at high level for a couple of years.”

One season after averaging his lowest scoring total since his rookie campaign at 17.3 points a game following arthroscopic knee surgery, Nowitzki led the Mavs while posting 21.7 points an outing. Perhaps more importantly, Nowitzki suited up in 80 games this season, passing Oscar Robertson (26,710) for 10th on the league’s scoring chart in the process.

And after completing his 16th season injury-free, Nowitzki will look to recondition his body for another strong campaign next year as he tries to will the Mavs back amongst the top-tier teams.

“You know, what worked for me the last couple of years in the summer was keeping the legs strong. I’m not going to be in [the gym] obviously in May or June shooting and running, but I’m going to be probably lifting twice a week just to keep a base, so by the time when I do start shooting around my knees are OK. That’s very important, and actually as you get older you put more time in rather than less. So, I’m going to be in here quite a bit. I might go to the beach for a little bit, but that’s really about it,” Nowitzki said of his summer plans.

Unsatisfied with simply pushing the Spurs to seven games, Nowitzki hopes to see Mavs owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson active this offseason to rebuild a championship contender. However, while admitting that he’s encouraged by the front office’s moves last summer, Nowitzki is expected to re-sign with the Mavericks as the team tries to build continuity.

Still, just three years removed from leading the franchise to its first title, there’s no doubt that it’s another championship chase that keeps Nowitzki motivated to return to the court in a Mavericks uniform. And it’s a desire to reward the Dallas fans with another title that Nowitzki says will fuel him heading into next season.

“You know, after the ’06 season when we lost in the Finals, I thought we were going to go to the Finals the next three or four years straight,” Nowitzki admitted. “And it took us basically five years to go back there again, so you can analyze this and analyze that. You never know what’s going to happen until you see the roster for next year and see how other teams are stacked out and how injuries play effect. But, you know, I definitely like the approach we took last summer and that’s not the eight or nine one-year deals; it’s to have a steady backcourt, signing guys to longer deals that know that they’re here and the fan base obviously identifies themselves with them. So, definitely, from that standpoint it was a good year.

“It was fun to be in the big dance again. You have to look at it like there’s 16 teams that have a chance to win it all and we were one of the 16, so we gave ourselves a chance. I thought the fans were excited for us and the building was on fire, so I think the fans were proud of us.”