The Dallas Mavericks made the decision to give Dirk Nowitzki the night off in Toronto on Jan 22nd. The Mavericks insisted nothing was physically wrong with their star forward; they just wanted to give him a much needed day of rest. Dallas had played four games in six days prior to their matchup with the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.
The practice of giving healthy players nights off in the NBA is becoming more commonplace, especially for those players that are well into their 30’s. The Mavericks recently saw what a bit of needed rest can do to a veteran when Shawn Marion missed four games with a bruised shoulder and ribs.
Marion was still recovering from a sprained ankle when hit the hit court hard against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 7th. Marion was forced to take a break from basketball due to his injuries, but there was an apparent silver lining to the injuries Marion sustained. Marion returned from his short break refreshed and rejuvenated on the court. Marion returned to the lineup and averaged 15 points and seven rebounds in his first two games back on the court.
Like Marion, Nowitzki is 35 years old and he has a lot of NBA miles on his body. The Mavericks noticed Nowitzki was in a need of a break and instead of wearing him down any further, they wisely sat him for a game.
Last season, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest most of his starting lineup in a prime-time game against the Miami Heat. The Spurs were scheduled to play their fourth game in five nights and their sixth game of a road trip. Popovich even took the extra step of sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green on a commercial flight home.
Like Popovich, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle knows the importance of having your most important asset(s) healthy and fresh down the stretch. The Mavericks will need Nowitzki to be at one-hundred percent in order to hold onto a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Minus Nowitzki, the Mavericks entered the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors with a five point lead, but Dallas failed to maintain the lead and lost the game, 93-85. While it is possible the Mavericks may have held onto the lead and pulled out the win with Nowizki on the court, they realize that a huge series by Nowitzki is their only chance at pulling off a first-round upset in the Western Conference.
All the games leading up the playoffs mean very little if your best players are unable to perform at a high level in the post season, and smart teams around the NBA are taking notice.