Dirk Diggling

He's an �ber-talented freak, a legit MVP candidate and the best player on one of the NBA's best teams. But at the biggest times in the biggest game of the season, a 98-89 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night, Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki wasn't good enough--or even good. The leader of the team and an unstoppable scorer most every night, against the archrival Spurs Dirk deteriorated into a screaming, flailing pouter who made only six of 15 shots and scored a bundle of his 23 points after the game had been decided. More alarming than what happened to Dirk was how it happened: The Spurs' Bruce Bowen first got in Dirk's jock, then in his head. Though only 6-7, Bowen frustrated and flustered the 7-foot Nowitzki by playing physical, chest-to-chest defense in Dirk's sweet spot, which is 15 to 18 feet from the basket. The few times Dirk attempted to post up the smaller Bowen, San Antonio double-teamed him, and the Giant German responded with only one assist. Give San Antonio's defense credit, but also give Dirk some blame. Or maybe it was the little-known Observer's cover jinx at work. Or maybe it was the fact Dirk was irritated by my flattering story's unflattering headline, "Dork Nowitzki." Who writes those, anyway? —Richie Whitt

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