Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki reflects on playing days with close friend Steve Nash

NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION REPORT

DALLAS — When Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said after the 2003-04 season that he wanted to build his franchise around a younger Dirk Nowitzki then passed up signing Steve Nash to a long-term deal, among those who expressed their displeasure with the move was Nowitzki.

BEST OF FRIENDS --- Dirk Nowitzki (right) and Steve Nash had become close friends during the six seasons in which they played together for the Dallas Mavericks. However, after Mavs owner Mark Cuban had declined to match the Phoenix Suns’ offer to Nash, which was a reported $63 million over six years, Nash reluctantly bolted Dallas for Phoenix after the 2003-04 season, news Nowitzki admittedly didn’t sit well with him. (Photo by D. Clarke/Getty Images)

BEST OF FRIENDS — Dirk Nowitzki (right) and Steve Nash had become close friends during the six seasons in which they played together for the Dallas Mavericks. However, after Mavs owner Mark Cuban had declined to match the Phoenix Suns’ offer to Nash, which was a reported $63 million over six years, Nash reluctantly bolted Dallas for Phoenix after the 2003-04 season, news Nowitzki admittedly didn’t sit well with him. (Photo by D. Clarke/Getty Images)

Nowitzki and Nash had become close friends during the six seasons in which they played together here.

However, after Cuban declined to match the Phoenix Suns’ offer to Nash, which was a reported $63 million over six years, Nash reluctantly bolted Dallas for Phoenix, news Nowitzki admittedly didn’t sit well with him.

“I was disappointed,” Nowitzki told MemphiSport following the Mavericks’ 101-94 win against the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night in American Airlines Center. “That was pretty obvious. We thought originally that Fin (Michael Finley), myself, and Steve would have a long run together. But Phoenix swooped in and gave him a heckuva deal.”

After an NBA career that spanned 17-plus seasons and was highlighted by eight All-Star appearances and two league MVP awards, Nash officially announced his retirement Tuesday afternoon.

HE SAID IT --- Said Nowitzki in Nash leaving Dallas for Phoenix: “I was disappointed,” Nowitzki told MemphiSport following the Mavericks’ 101-94 win against the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night in American Airlines Center. “That was pretty obvious. We thought originally that Fin (Michael Finley), myself, and Steve would have a long run together. But Phoenix swooped in and gave him a heckuva deal.”

HE SAID IT — Said Nowitzki on Nash leaving Dallas for Phoenix: “I was disappointed,” Nowitzki told MemphiSport following the Mavericks’ 101-94 win against the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night in American Airlines Center. “That was pretty obvious. We thought originally that Fin (Michael Finley), myself, and Steve would have a long run together. But Phoenix swooped in and gave him a heckuva deal.” (Photo by Glenn James/Getty Images)

Nash, 41, had been under contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for the past two-plus seasons before injuries ultimately reduced his effectiveness and forced him to call it a career. Prior to joining the Lakers, Nash spent eight seasons with Phoenix, where he enjoyed arguably his best moments as a pro.

Having joined a Suns team that inherited emerging young players Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire, Nash showed that even as a then-seven-year veteran, he was still very much in his prime. Nash had become only the third point guard (Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy) to capture consecutive league MVP awards (2005-2006) and the first Canadian to win the NBA’s most covenant individual award.

Ironically, Nash barely missed out on seizing a third consecutive MVP trophy, placing second with 44 first place votes, 39 shy of Nowitzki’s 83.

“Well, he was one of the greatest guards to ever play,” Nowitzki said of Nash. “He was an unbelievable competitor, as mentally tough as they get, as mentally tough as anyone I’ve seen in this league. He wanted the big shot. He wanted to be a part of the big games, played through injuries. He was just as tough as it gets and he was my friend.”

Unfortunately for Nash, a rash of injuries in recent years significantly limited his ability to perform efficiently, thus leading to him officially calling it a career.

RISING SUN --- Having joined a Suns team that inherited emerging young players Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire, Nash showed that even as a then-seven-year veteran, he was still very much in his prime. Nash had become only the third point (Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy) to capture consecutive league MVP awards (2005-2006) and the first Canadian born player to win the NBA’s most covenant individual award.

RISING SUN — Having joined a Suns team that inherited emerging young players Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire, Nash showed that even as a then-seven-year veteran, he was still very much in his prime. Nash had become only the third point (Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy) to capture consecutive league MVP awards (2005-2006) and the first Canadian born player to win the NBA’s most covenant individual award.

After sustaining a broken leg during his first season with the Lakers, Nash was never the same player again. Consequently, he endured neck, back, and muscle issues from which he never recovered.

Last summer, Nash announced that this season would be his last. However, after experiencing continuous back pains that have been hampering him since the preseason, Nash on March 21 formerly announced his retirement.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nash played at the University of Santa Clara before he was selected with the 15th overall pick by Phoenix in 1996.

A little more than a decade removed from having played with Nash, Nowitzki finally was able to put his and Nash’s careers into perspective.

“I was disappointed at the time,” Nowitzki said of Nash’s unceremonious departure from Dallas. “But you know, looking back at our careers, maybe it was better that way. We both flourished away from each other. But looking back, I’ll always have a smile on my face of the times we had together.”

To his credit, Nash’s unorthodox style of play inspired a number of other NBA point guard, most notably fellow international player Tony Parker of the Spurs.

“He was one of the best point guards in the history of the league,” Parker said. “He had a great mind for basketball. He was a great passer obviously and we’re definitely going to miss him. I’ve had some great battles against him when he was with the Phoenix Suns. I wish him luck in his next challenge in life. We’ve always been good friends and learned a lot just watching him play.”

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Grizzlies hope to atone for home struggles during six-game stretch in FedExForum

For the Memphis Grizzlies, there has been nothing sweet about playing at home in recent weeks.

HOMEWRECKERS ---Playing in FedExForum hasn't been pleasant for veteran Tayshaun Prince and the Grizzlies in recent weeks. Memphis, which opens a five-game homestand Saturday starting with Brooklyn, has dropped three straight and four of its last five at home. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

HOME WRECKERS —Playing in FedExForum hasn’t been pleasant for veteran Tayshaun Prince and the Grizzlies in recent weeks. Memphis, which opens a six-game homestand Saturday starting with Brooklyn, has dropped three straight and four of its last five at home. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

Given the Grizzlies’ lethargic play of late in FedExForum, what veteran shooting guard Tony Allen labeled the “Grindhouse” two years ago has become virtually an establishment that has brought about much criticism among spectators, given Memphis has found it difficult to protect its home court in what has become one of the toughest places for opponents in recent years.

The Grizzlies (8-7) have been dealt three consecutive defeats at home and have dropped four of their last five outings in FedExForum, this after managing a 32-9 home record last year.

“You know, we caught some boos early in the season,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said before practice Friday morning at the team’s practice facility. “That doesn’t feel very good. And I think there’s extra pressure playing at home and we want to do well at home. And our guys have played their hearts out the last three or four years or whatever and laid it on the line, so I’m sure that hurt them a little.”

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they will have a golden opportunity to erase the memory of their recent home court struggles beginning Saturday when they host the Brooklyn Nets at 7 p.m. CST to start a six-game homestand, their longest home stretch this season. While playing in their building proved to be an enormous advantage, of sorts, last year for the Grizzlies, which enabled them to generate their best winning percentage (.683) in franchise history by posting a 56-26 mark, Memphis surprisingly has enjoyed more success on the road, having won five of eight games away from FedExForum.

So how to explain Grizzlies’ constant woes in what had become an unfriendly environment for opposing teams in years past?

“We get out there and feel like it’s just us,” Joerger said. “We’re not worried about winning or losing. On the road, it’s just you. But you have that expectation on the road, to just go compete and we need to carry that into the homestand. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing an Eastern Conference team or a Western Conference team. It doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to keep plugging away and getting better. By and large, we’ve improved over the last couple of weeks, but we’ve just got to continue to get better.”

Before Jeorger switched to a tighter rotation during the Grizzlies’ recent West coast road trip that resulted in four consecutive wins, among Memphis’ notable issues was its inability to close out games and, most importantly, acquire the essential defensive stops that allowed the Grizzlies to blossom into one of the NBA’s most efficient defensive teams last year.

Also, before producing a season-best four-game undefeated streak, the Grizzlies’ struggles surfaced, in large part

Dwight Howard (far left) and the Rockets overcame a 14-point deficit Monday night to hand the Grizzlies their lastest home defeat, which was Memphis' third in as many games in FedExForum. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

Dwight Howard (far left) and the Houston Rockets erased a 14-point deficit Monday night to hand the Grizzlies their latest home defeat, which was Memphis’ third in as many games in FedExForum. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

because veteran big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the team’s top two scorers, were ineffective offensively, averaging a combine 26.6 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. Additionally, Memphis surrendered 99.4 points to the opposition while committing 16.9 turnovers. However, during the team’s recent road trip, Gasol and Randolph returned to form, averaging a combined 43.8 points and 21 rebounds for a Grizzlies team that suddenly mirrored the proverbial “grit grind” squad that advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year.

“I think consistent effort,” said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, explaining Memphis’ recent home struggles. “I think we’ll play great in a half, three quarters, and then one of those quarters, we let down and we don’t come with the same focus and consistency. We let team back in games. We let teams play harder than us and that’s not in our nature. And we can’t do that at home.”

The good news for a Grizzlies team Joerger contends is trying to find its identity with the key loss of Gasol — who is sidelined indefinitely with an MCL sprain to his left knee — is that there is still much basketball to play in a season that is only 15 games old, one in which the Grizzlies have an ample amount of time to atone for the scattered boos that have been heard throughout their building in recent weeks. After Saturday’s contest against the Nets, the Grizzlies then welcome Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Orlando, and Oklahoma City to FedExForum.

Of those six teams, four advanced to the postseason last year with Memphis eliminating the Clippers and Thunder in the playoffs’ opening two rounds before falling to the Spurs in the conference finals.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Joerger said of the unfavorable reactions from Grizzlies fans of late. “It was a small percentage of people, so it’s not something to go on and on about. It was what it was. We’re going to play as hard as we can. We certainly enjoy playing at home. We’ve had a nice advantage at home in the past. But we’ve caught some teams that had been playing very well. New Orleans came in and played a must-win game. Rudy Gay kind of had his revenge game, which is what most NBA guys will do, so hopefully he got that out of his system. And we played some good teams in San Antonio and Houston. Like I said, it doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Not to mention help re-establish the Grindhouse as a hostile environment for the opposition.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

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