Dirk's dealing with plenty

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Dirt is being thrown at Dirk, Dallas' marquee player who was thrown for a loop when his personal life made headlines at a time when the Denver Nuggets have taken control of the Mavs in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.

Just before the revelation that a woman arrested at Dirk Nowitzki's house turned out to be his former fiancee, whom a private investigator discovered had eight aliases, there was plenty of renewed talk of Nowitzki being soft.

A lot of the criticism originated from the talking heads at TNT, namely Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber.

Each pointed out that Nowitzki shouldn't have praised Denver's defence in the wake of the Nuggets winning Game 1.

In the me-first NBA, it's considered a cardinal sin to provide one's foe with any edge.

He felt Chris Anderson's length, Nene's athleticism and Kenyon Martin's toughness were tough to combat.

The truth is Nowitzki was branded as soft when he couldn't raise his game during the 2006 NBA final, when Dallas blew a 2-0 series lead against the Miami Heat, blew late-game advantages and couldn't take advantage from the foul line.

Nowitzki is a former league MVP, a legit franchise player because he can create in late-game situations, but he needs to take that next step.

He's inching closer to being a true elite player in the game and how he reacts tonight, when the series shifts to Dallas in a must-win scenario, will go a long way to disproving the critics.

The Nuggets haven't exactly stopped Nowitzki, who scored 28 and 35 points by going a combined 23-of-42 from the floor in the opening two games played in Denver.

But Nowitzki is the face of the Mavericks franchise which is facing adversity.

"Everybody's focus is on Game 3 and getting that first W,'' sixth man Jason Terry said.

"Whatever it is, I don't know. We got to get this win. Whatever else is going on doesn't matter."

Nowitzki, by all accounts, is a stand-up guy.

Like many who have been in his shoes, he has politely refused to discuss his personal life, which is his right.

When it comes to matters relating to the hardwood, Nowitzki is more than willing to offer an opinion.

"We're down 0-2 and I'm trying to focus on basketball as much as I can," Nowitzki said.

"I'll be ready. They (rest of the team) know I'm a warrior. I'll be ready to play.

"We had some tough losses (in Denver). We were in both games. I'm going to stay ready. Their fans were unbelievable and we're going to need the same at home.

"If we can get (tonight's) game, we'll be on the board and make this a series."

Coaching carousel

According to Yahoo! Sports, Rick Pitino has surfaced as a candidate in Sacramento.

Pitino has coached in the NBA before, but the history of college coaches joining the pro ranks is dotted with failure and futility.

At times, the temptation of money is too strong to resist.

Pitino won't come cheap.

In Philly, another team that went with an interim head coach, word is that GM Ed Stefanski will meet with Tony DiLeo by early next week to discuss DiLeo's future.

Of all the coaches who wore the interim tag, DiLeo was the only one to get his team into the playoffs.

Of course, the Sixers' season ended on an embarrassing note when the Orlando Magic, minus Dwight Howard, who was serving a one-game suspension, thumped the home-town Sixers by 25 points in the close-out game.

In Phoenix, the Suns are said to be moving closer to making Alvin Gentry their full-time head coach.

In Toronto, meanwhile, no one is saying anything, at least nothing of any substance, regarding Jay Triano.

The MLSEL board was scheduled to meet yesterday, but everyone's job, be it Raptor-related or Leafs-related, is under review.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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