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Maybe it's time the Mavs' would-be MVP got his Dirk out of the box and played some friggin' crunchtime ball.

You can talk about Steve Nash's heroics, Amare Stoudemire's monster game or countless, game-changing, mind-boggling, heart-palpitating plays in what was undoubtedly the best NBA game of the season. But most of all, you can hang the Mavericks' 129-127 double-overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Dirk Nowitzki. That's right. When Dirk's good, I take up for him, even promote him. But when he performs like he did Wednesday night, I'll call him out as a passive, fadeaway jump-shooter who picked up a key technical foul whining to referees, missed two crucial free throws in the final 32 seconds of regulation and barely grazed the rim on jumpers at the end of the fourth quarter and second overtime.

Hard to rip a guy who scored 30 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out six assists. But if we're going to tout the giant German as M-V-P!, M-V-P!, he's got to make himself even more valuable. Like Nash, who sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer and then allowed Phoenix to snap Dallas' 23-game home winning streak with a key defensive steal.

Sorry, Mavs fans, but I think Dirk lost the MVP last night. And Nash won it.


Despite playing without Devean George and Devin Harris, the Mavs took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter. The gap was still 10 with four minutes left. With 57 seconds remaining, Dallas led 108-101. That's when, inexplicably, the Mavs so totally fell apart mentally and physically that, despite their 52-11 record, our faith in them is a little shaken this morning. Well, isn't it?

First, Dirk missed a free throw. Then Josh Howard missed one. Then, in a brain fart usually reserved for my team of fourth-graders, Howard fouled Nash on a three-pointer. Still up two, Dirk went to the line for two free throws with :13 remaining. Make both, and it's game over.

Clank. Game on.

Needing only a three-pointer to tie thanks to Dirk's miss(es), Nash drilled a trey. In the overtimes Phoenix drove for dunks while Dallas settled for jumpers. There's been soooo much soooo good about this season. But, admit it, last night dissolved a tangible chunk of it.

Bottom line: The Mavs led the season series with Phoenix 2-0 and were a free throw away from an insurmountable 3-0 lead. But after a monumental collapse down the stretch, now the race is on. Uh-oh, isn't this eerily familiar? --Richie Whitt

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