MIAMI – The hammer Dirk Nowitzki is so close to escaping is pounding away harder than ever at LeBron James.
The Dallas Mavericks are a victory from claiming the title that James came to Miami to win. It would forever alter Nowitzki’s reputation, which has already been elevated enormously during this series as he’s ignored injury and illness.
And James is now the target of all the criticism Nowitzki long endured, the one shouldering most of the blame as things go wrong.
“That’s just a part of the game if you’re the star or the face of the franchise,” Nowitzki said Saturday. “If you win, it’s great for you, and everybody looks at you. And if you lose, you’re going to get hammered. It’s just part of the business. I think we understand that, we’ve been around long enough. I got the hammered the last 13 years, basically. So hopefully this year I can make the hammering go away for a year.”
He has two shots at it. The Mavs can win their first title tonight, or Tuesday if the Heat force a seventh game.
That would require a stronger effort from James, who this time a year ago was coming off his second straight MVP award and was three weeks from becoming among the most sought-after free agents in sports history.
Now he’s the guy who can’t produce in the fourth quarters, with 11 total points in five games, the one with the big name but the puny stats who had to spend part of his off day answering all sorts of questions about what’s happened to him.
Nowitzki knows the feeling. He has been the lone big star on a Dallas team that’s won 50 games for 11 straight seasons, yet he’s known best for his failures: the collapse after a 2-0 lead over Miami in the 2006 finals, the first-round loss to eighth-seeded Golden State in the first round the next year after winning 67 games.
He was tagged as soft and given derisive nicknames such as No-win-ski or No-ring-ski. But he showed plenty of toughness Saturday when he fired back at Wade and James after they appeared to be mocking his recent illness on a video that made the rounds Friday.
Nowitzki called it “a little childish, a little ignorant,” but denied that it would give him any added motivation to claim the ring he’s been chasing for 13 years.
“We’re one win away from my dream, what I’ve worked on for half my life,” Nowitzki said. “This is really all I’m worried about, this is all I’m focusing on.”