Dirk Nowitzki has shouldered his load without complaint.
He's dealt with the incomparable pressure of knowing the Mavericks had no chance to win a playoff series if he wasn't at his best.
Now, he sees there's another way.
Liberating? Sure. It also has profound significance on this team as it moves forward.
And this team will move forward. Nothing San Antonio can do now will keep the Mavericks out of the second round.
Think back to the first round loss to Golden State two years ago. The more former coach Avery Johnson raved about Baron Davis, the more he talked about his will to win and how true stars put teams on their back, the bigger indictment it was of Nowitzki.
There is no need to point fingers at Nowitzki in this series because the Mavericks have a 3-1 lead. The players have picked up the offensive slack. They've got his back after he's had theirs for so many years.
Don't look now, but a team is coming together before our eyes.
"Guys are selling out for one another,'' forward Josh Howard said. "It's about us, these guys in the lockerroom. We put everything aside and are just going out there to play.''
It's not just offense. The Mavericks won for the first time all season Saturday when shooting less than 40 percent from the field. Who made a key defensive play late by taking a charge?
"This is probably the best we've done all season in the sense of sharing the ball,'' Jason Kidd said. "Defensively, we're out there scrambling. Everyone is covering for each other.''
This is Nowitzki's team. He can't hide from that, and doesn't want to. But not every lost series should be laid at his feet. It would be nice once in awhile if he's allowed to be human and the Mavericks still win.
That's about to happen.
_ David Moore