- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Dirk Nowitzki spent the entire defensive possession scowling and barking at referee Dick Bavetta.
A no-call on a turnover during the Mavericks' fourth-quarter failure against the Utah Jazz angered Nowitzki. Not that it's unusual these days to see the best player in Dallas' franchise history blow off steam on the court.
The easy smile Dirk brought back after his first adult summer away from basketball is gone, just like the long, golden locks he grew while relaxing on a Greek beach. This has not been an enjoyable season for Nowitzki.
"It seems like it's been a frustrating year, and we're still right there," Nowitzki said Monday morning at Energy Solutions Arena. "We're third in the West now and still have a decent record. I don't know why it is, but it's been a frustrating year.
"Hopefully, we can just keep on working and work through the kinks and be all right. It feels like a weird year. I don't know why. Probably because we've been losing so many games at home, which you should never do as a good team. That adds to the frustration."
From an individual perspective, Nowitzki is in the midst of another phenomenal season. He has earned his ninth consecutive All-Star invitation by ranking seventh in the league in scoring with 25.2 points per game and surpassing the 20,000-point milestone. He's had several spectacular, clutch performances, including a trio of game-winning shots in the final seconds.
But Nowitzki no longer cares about individual accomplishments. He's been an MVP. He lived his dream of leading Germany to the Olympics. An NBA championship is all Nowitzki needs to be completely satisfied with his career.
Nowitzki can opt out of his contract after this season, but he has given no indication that he plans to leave Dallas. He's made it clear that he's committed to winning a title with the Mavericks, saying a championship wouldn't have the same meaning if he won it with another team.
The Mavs, of course, came painfully close to a parade in downtown Dallas four years ago only to experience an epic NBA Finals collapse, losing four consecutive games to the Miami Heat after opening the series with two convincing wins ... and holding a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter in Game 3. Nowitzki took his anger out by punting the ball into the stands and kicking an exercise bike after Game 5.
"He's one of those superstars that would do anything for the team," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who doesn't consider Nowitzki's exhibits of frustration a concern. "He would make any sacrifice to win a game, to put us in position to win a championship."
The pressure intensifies after every prime year passes for the 31-year-old Nowitzki.
Nowitzki vented earlier this season that it feels like he has to hit every shot down the stretch to win, especially at home. Jason Terry and Josh Howard, the Mavs' next two best players on their Finals teams, are performing well below their career standards this season. Nowitzki feels the burden to carry the Mavs, much like he did two seasons ago before Dallas made the deal sending Devin Harris to New Jersey for Jason Kidd.
But Nowitzki ultimately and consistently accepts the responsibility for wins and losses. He agonizes when he doesn't deliver in the clutch. That stress has been reflected recently in his emotional displays during games.
"I'm more of a negative person in general," Nowitzki said. "I always see the glass as half empty. I've got to do a good job of, even when things aren't going well in a game, staying more upbeat and just keep coming."
With the way the Mavs have played over the past month or so, Nowitzki's pessimism is understandable. So is his pain.
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com