- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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It appears that the worst-kept secret in the NBA will be fully out in the open by early next week.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, whose coronation as the first European-born Most Valuable Player in NBA history has been expected for weeks, is scheduled to officially receive the MVP trophy news conference on Tuesday in Dallas, ESPN.com has learned.
The NBA has handed out its past three MVPs -- two straight to Phoenix's Steve Nash after Minnesota's Kevin Garnett won in 2004 -- at the start of the second round. But it's believed the league opted to put some distance between Nowitzki's ceremony and the Mavericks' stunning first-round exit against Golden State.
By the time Nowitzki collects his award, nearly two weeks will have elapsed since the 67-win Mavs became the just the third No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose to a No. 8 seed. The previous two No. 1 seeds to lose so quickly, however, suffered five-game exits as opposed to losing a seven-game series: Seattle in 1994 to Denver and Miami in 1999 to New York.
Said Nowitzki, reached by phone Thursday night: "Nobody's told me anything. You [media] guys have been talking about it for a while, so let's see what happens.
"[But] it's hard to even think about that stuff right now. Everything [from the Golden State series] is still pretty fresh. It's been some tough days since we lost."
"I thought this was such an incredible year," Nowitzki said. "We won 67 games and then to lose in the first round, it just feels so empty right now."
Asked to imagine what an MVP ceremony would be like after such a disappointment, Nowitzki said: "If I do get it, it's an incredible honor. I'm sure 20 years from now or whatever, to see that in the [record] books, it's an amazing achievement. But right now, it's hard. Obviously, you can't feel good about the way our season ended."
Nowitzki averaged 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and a career-best 3.4 assists during the regular season and was the only player in the league to shoot at least 50 percent from the field (.502), 40 percent from 3-point range (.416) and 90 percent from the free-throw line (.904). His percentages in each of those categories were career highs, helping Nowitzki secure his third successive berth on the All-NBA first team, which was announced Thursday.
But it all changed in the playoffs against longtime mentor Don Nelson, crafted a defensive strategy -- which included constant double-teaming, largely by fronting Nowitzki and then sending over help defenders on his catches -- that the 7-footer and Mavs coach Avery Johnson never solved. Nowitzki scored just eight points on 2-for-13 shooting in Dallas' Game 6 elimination and wound up averaging a mere 19.7 points for the series on 38.3 percent shooting and just 21.1 percent on 3s.
Complete ballot results remain unknown, but all indications point to Nowitzki edging his close friend and two-time reigning MVP Nash for the award. In a recent survey of MVP voters conducted by The Arizona Republic, in which the Phoenix newspaper received responses from 96 of the 132 ballot-holders, Nowitzki totaled 57 first-place votes to Nash's 37, with Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers receiving the other two.
The German is poised to join Houston's Moses Malone (in 1979 and 1982) and Baltimore's Wes Unseld (who was rookie of the year and MVP in 1969) as the only MVPs in league history to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was named MVP in 1976 in his first year in Los Angeles even though his Lakers failed to reach the playoffs that season.
Nowitzki said Thursday that he hasn't been watching much of the playoffs since the Mavs' ouster and that he's still in the process of finalizing his offseason plans, which are likely to include some travel to get a break from the game before joining the German national team for one last run at qualifying for the Olympics. Nowitzki has maintained for years that leading his country to an Olympic berth is his "dream."
In an interview before the playoffs, though, Nowitzki left little doubt that he knew the consequences of another playoff setback, given the level of NBA media coverage and dissection compared to Malone's era and Dallas' collapse last June in the NBA Finals after taking a 2-0 lead over Miami.
"I've said it a million times: We could go 82-0 and we know it means nothing unless we win it all," Nowitzki said on the eve of the Golden State series. "I know what's going on. If we lose [in the playoffs], you guys will say they can't win the big games and they have no leadership."
Yet Mavericks management has stood staunchly behind their franchise player, pointing out that the 28-year-old is only a year removed from dominating a Game 7 on the road in San Antonio and hanging 50 points on Phoenix in a series-turning game in the conference finals.
"Don't forget that we took away his point guard and his best friend [Nash] and that we went to a totally different style of play [from Nellie to Avery]," Mavs president of basketball operation Donnie Nelson said recently. "Every time we throw something new at Dirk, he masters it."
After the Mavericks cleaned out their lockers for the summer May 5, Nowitzki told reporters: "I always take things very, very hard on myself. I don't need media people to tell me that I did bad. I know I didn't play my best in the playoffs.
"I understand the business by now. If you play well and you win, you're the greatest. And if you lose, you're the worst player in the league. [It's] obviously not the position I want to be in, but it's nothing I can change now. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Hopefully I can learn from this experience."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss