Nowitzki has had 'tough three days'
DALLAS -- Even before Dirk Nowitzki laid flat on his back, allowing his lifelong mentor from Germany to put him through an elaborate series of post-workout leg stretches, loose was a pretty apt description for the Dallas Mavericks' All-Star forward Friday night.
On the eve of Game 3 in the Dallas-Denver series, wearing his favorite ratty sweats and chattering away as he shot, Nowitzki looked and sounded pleased to be locked back into his time-tested playoff routine, having returned to an empty practice gym for some last-minute fine tuning of his jumper hours after the Mavericks' morning session.
"It's been a tough three days," Nowitzki said, "but I can't wait to get out there."
That opportunity finally comes Saturday afternoon for Nowitzki. The Mavericks are in a virtual must-win bind thanks to their 2-0 series deficit and their franchise player is still coming to terms with the events of Wednesday, when a woman named Cristal Taylor -- reported by numerous media outlets to be his fiancée -- was arrested at Nowitzki's Dallas home while the team was flying back from Denver.
After Thursday's practice, Nowitzki greeted a Dallas Cowboys-sized media horde by acknowledging that he's "going through a tough time in my personal life right now" but telling reporters that he is "not at the stage where I can talk about it yet and feel comfortable talking about it."
Following Friday's morning workout, Nowitzki declined to be interviewed by the waiting press pack but consented to a brief interview with ESPN.com after his night-time shooting and stretching with longtime personal coach Holger Geschwindner.
"It's a very difficult time for me and my family," Nowitzki said. "But basketball -- having a game tomorrow -- is going to be great for me."
Nowitzki, though, continues to deflect questions about his relationship with Taylor, reports she is pregnant and how much he knew about her past.
Taylor remains in Dallas County Jail on $20,000 bail after she was taken into custody on warrants accusing her of violating a probation sentence for two counts of forgery and one count of felony stealing in Missouri and a theft-of-service charge for failing to pay for an estimated $10,000 in dental work in Beaumont, Texas.
"After 11 years in the NBA, I think I understand how the media works," Nowitzki said. "You guys have a job to do, but I have a job to do with the Dallas Mavericks. So I hope you guys can respect that this is my private life and [that] I really need to keep it separate.
"This is a private matter and it's going to be worked out in private. This series is all that matters right now."
This series finds the Mavericks trying to rebound from two double-digit losses to the Nuggets, who outside of the unbeaten Cleveland Cavaliers, have been perhaps the most impressive so far in these playoffs. Dallas' chances have been further complicated by the uncertainty surrounding swingman Josh Howard. Widely regarded as the X-factor who swung a first-round series with San Antonio in the Mavericks' favor, Howard needs offseason surgery on his left ankle and was limited to six minutes in Game 2 because of a sprained right ankle he suffered in Game 1.
The Mavericks' concern about Nowitzki's ability to cope, by contrast, appears to be minimal in spite of the turbulence in his personal life. Coaches and teammates have publicly and privately backed Nowitzki's ability to maintain his focus through these distractions, pointing to the fact that the 30-year-old has been the Mavericks' only source of consistency in this series in spite of his off-court troubles. In two games against the Nuggets, Nowitzki is averaging 31.5 points and 9.5 rebounds and shooting 54.8 percent from the floor.
Asked Friday to gauge the state of Nowitzki's psyche, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said flatly: "Dirk's fine."
Said Mavericks assistant coach Mario Elie, who was known for his rugged side in winning three championship rings as a player with Houston and San Antonio: "That man gets beaten on every night, doesn't get calls, plays every night, plays hurt. And people don't want to see that side. I think Dirk is one of the toughest guys in the league. You see what he goes through on a night-in and night-out basis, getting knocked down, getting hacked and fouled. But he always brings it for this team. Always."
Added Mavericks guard Jason Terry, when asked if he's worried about Nowitzki holding up against the combination of the Nuggets' deep stash of Dirk defenders and the increased media scrutiny he's faced since the team returned to practice Thursday: "Oh, no. Not [after] watching him prepare the last two days."
Nowitzki punctuated Friday night's tuneup the same way he usually does -- dunking off a deep knee bend and flat-footed jump from right under the basket -- and then insisted that he can back up Terry's confidence.
"I think Jason [Kidd] said it best: We all go through [difficult] stuff in the NBA, but you always go out and play," Nowitzki said. "I can't wait to get on that court so I can do what I do best."
Said Kidd after Thursday's practice: "Everybody is distracted every day by something. ... He's a human being. Life isn't perfect. You move on and you learn from it."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.