Lowe's 10 things: Dirk forever, whining about layups and All-Star Oladipo


Here we go into the second half of the season:

1. A Dirkassaince

Dirk Nowitzki is back, and he’s a big reason the frisky Mavs are 12-13 over their past 25 games. No player has ever been this impactful while having such a hard time, like, running and walking. Seriously, zero in on Dirk during his first stint of each half, and you’ll catch him sneaking in a deep knee bend — some old-man calisthenics — when he’s away from the action.

Since Dallas fell into that 3-15 ditch, Nowitzki is averaging 14 points per game on very close to 50/40/90 shooting. Again, he can barely move. Teams still scrap their base pick-and-roll defense to account for his jumper. They’ll switch little guys onto him, or send third defenders flying at him even if it leaves another Maverick open — whatever it takes to prevent Dirk from launching.

A Nowitzki ball screen remains one of the game’s most lethal plays. The Mavs pour in 1.18 points per possession when Nowitzki sets a pick for a ball-handler, seventh among all high-volume screen-setters, behind only Zaza Pachulia, LeBron James, Luke Babbitt, Channing Frye, Jordan Bell and Draymond Green, per Second Spectrum. (To review: three Warriors, the game’s best player, a shooting big man who plays with the game’s best player, and Luke Babbitt for some reason.) Only Marc Gasol, Robin Lopez and DeAndre Jordan have set more ball screens.

He’s even setting up office hours at the center of the foul line again after shying away from post-ups early in the season. The Mavs have scored 1.32 points per possession on any trip featuring a Dirk post-up, the fourth-highest mark among 81 guys who have recorded at least 50 post-ups, according to Second Spectrum.

He is a key member of the Mavs’ fittingly wacky Death Lineup: Nowitzki, Yogi Ferrell, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and Dwight Powell — still outscoring teams by an ungodly 19 points per 100 possessions. He’s happy to sit during crunch time if the Mavs have a lead, and Rick Carlisle needs defense.

Dirk, forever.

2. Whining about garbage-time layups

First, it was Mike Budenholzer expressing some, umm, consternation about OG Anunoby‘s pick-six dunk with 17.1 seconds left and Toronto leading Atlanta by 11 two weeks ago. (Budenholzer later apologized.) Then on Wednesday, Damian Lillard seemed annoyed that Chris Paul caught a pass from Trevor Ariza near Portland’s basket, and dared lay the ball in with Houston up by seven and about 15 seconds left.

Stop whining! This is the NBA! If you want to prevent teams from running up the score, don’t turn the ball over! Foul someone!

These aren’t obscene, obnoxious plays. Budenholzer demands the Hawks run their offense with a certain crispness even in garbage time. Anunoby defends with the same crispness, steals the ball, and finds his momentum already taking him toward the basket. In that case, have some fun, rook. He didn’t slap any mustard on his dunk.

Houston was up only seven when Paul caught a pass, momentum also going toward the basket, and lofted the ball in. Nutty comebacks — or almost-comebacks — happen all the time in the NBA. If you are up by less than 10 with 20 seconds left, you should be free to do whatever the hell you’d like. Paul didn’t showboat, either.

The story would be different if these guys went out of their way to humiliate a prone opponent. Paul and Anunoby execute normal basketball plays. It’s almost more embarrassing — and more condescending — if Anunoby U-turns and dribbles out the clock.

3. Slappy Nikola Jokic

A touch pass is the product of a firing, impatient brain. It requires understanding — instantly — how any possible pass from a teammate will warp the geometry of the floor, and what cracks will emerge in the defense.

Jokic, the greatest passing big man in the game today — and perhaps since prime Arvydas Sabonis — is the master of a violent, clubbing slap pass that might be completely unique to him among current players:

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