Commentary

Shot isn't biggest concern with injury

Bum finger could pose problem for Dirk Nowitzki on go-to moves to his left

Updated: June 2, 2011, 8:51 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

MIAMI -- Dirk Nowitzki says the middle finger on his left hand with the torn tendon doesn't throb as badly as he thought it would. He's even optimistic a tape job and not a restrictive splint will do the trick.

The Miami Heat say they have no intention of letting up their defensive swarming of the Dallas Mavericks' sweet-shooting 7-footer. As far as the Heat are concerned, Nowitzki is 100 percent healthy and 110 percent dangerous.

"There's no feelings that he isn't at the level that he can be at," Heat forward and Dirk defender Chris Bosh said.

So what's the problem as the Mavericks seek an important split in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday night?

Well, there is this from Nowitzki himself:

"Everybody knows, watching me for 13 years," Nowitzki said Wednesday, "I like to go left and finish with my left."

Nowitzki isn't concerned about shooting the basketball. His left hand is simply a guide, so his damaged finger should be minimally intrusive.

"It's going to be other stuff, dribbling, passing, catching, swiping down, stuff like that," Nowitzki said. "I think it will be OK. "

After Wednesday's practice, which included an extra shooting session with longtime mentor Holger Geschwinder, Nowitzki is at least slightly concerned about his ability to butter his bread as usual by going to his left out of almost any situation -- whether he spots up, posts up, goes to work off isolation or rolls off the pick-and-roll.

"This is not the first injury I've played through in my career and I'm not really that worried about it," Nowitzki said. "I'm really more worried about ball-handling with the left [hand] and finishing on some layups with the left."

Nowitzki has certainly battled through injuries, from multiple ankle sprains to a quick return from having chips of Carl Landry's teeth removed from his elbow, to what was likely a premature return from a sprained right knee this season.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Larry W. Smith-Pool/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki's injured finger could hinder his ability to go to his left.

But none of those injuries threaten his ability to drive left as much as a damaged middle finger. These 16 playoff games exemplify Nowitzki's desire to go left. ESPN Stats & Information dug up some telling statistics.

In 61 spot-up situations, Nowitzki drove to the left 63 percent of the time compared to going right just 29.6 percent of the time, and his shooting percentage from the left side doubles his percentage when going right. Nowitzki goes straight ahead just 7.4 percent of the time.

In 57 pick-and-roll situations, he's gone left 24 times and is shooting 72.2 percent. He's gone right 13 times and is shooting 66.7 percent.

There's more:

• In post-up situations from the left block, Nowitzki turns over his right shoulder -- meaning he goes left -- 50 percent of the time and over his left shoulder only 37.5 percent of the time.

• In post-up situations from the right block, he turns over his right shoulder 35.6 percent of the time and over the left shoulder 16.9 percent of the time.

• The lone deviation is isolation situations. He drives left 49.1 percent of the time for a total of 28 different plays. He drove right 29 times, but he only shoots 39.1 percent when driving left and 45.0 percent when driving right.

The regular season numbers are even more telling:

• On isolation plays, Nowitzki drove left 62.0 percent of the time and went right 38.0 percent.

• Nowitzki was also a better finisher from the left side. Going left on isolation drives to the bucket, Nowitzki averaged 1.44 points per play, tops in the league. He averaged 1.00 points per play driving right.

Still, the scouting report on Nowitzki will remain heavily shaded to the left.

A trio of Heat defenders -- spearheaded by 6-foot-8 forward Udonis Haslem and aided by 6-foot-11 forward Chris Bosh and undersized, 6-foot-9 forward Joel Anthony -- did a good job of making life rough on Nowitzki in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He managed 27 points, but was just 7-of-18 from the floor.

"It's definitely big. He makes a lot of moves [left]," Anthony said of Nowitzki's penchant for going left. "But he can also go right. Just because you take away his left, you [don't] stop him. You really just slow him down a little bit by doing that, but he can also go right and take the ball to the basket."

The quick and powerful Heat defense often prevented Nowitzki from catching the ball where he likes it and forced him to put the ball on the floor. Miami often brought a double-team with its three big men -- not a big and guard -- and forced the ball out of Nowitzki's hands.

"It doesn't change," Haslem said.

What must change for the Mavs if Nowitzki is hampered is the help he receives. With the Heat bringing a big-man double-team, Mavs centers Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood must make Miami pay in the paint. The duo scored just 12 points combined in Game 1.

The Mavs' bench was 4-of-22 from the field with Jason Terry accounting for three buckets, but on just 3-of-10 shooting and 0-of-3 in the second half after LeBron James took over defensive duties.

Then again, it wouldn't be the first time for Nowitzki to overcome adversity with a triumphant performance.

"Once the game starts, the adrenaline starts flowing," Nowitzki said. "I don't think it will really slow me down much."

The Mavs' championship hopes just might come down to Nowitzki's ability to go left.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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