It pays to start off with Dirk Nowitzki's weak points in a discussion of his greatness in order to see just how far he's come.
The 12-year veteran has come a long, long way since his days playing in Wurzburg, Germany, but he's always had one fatal flaw on the court: he's a classic 'tweener.
For those of you who don't know what I mean, a 'tweener is a player who is, technically, too tall to play and often guard smaller positions, yet lacks the classic skill-set and playing style of a person his size (think Kevin Garnett).
This has been pretty much a career blessing for the 32-year-old on the offensive side of the court, where he can post up smaller small forwards or use his rare mobility to go up, around and under bulkier power forwards and centers.
But on the defensive end, he's shown just where this type of versatility can go wrong.
Nowitski, often in bad timing, has had to guard smaller, more mobile guards who've used there superior speed to blow by the seven-footer for a score, or he's had to matchup with stronger and bulkier post men who easily take advantage of the still rather gangly Maverick.
The only redeeming upsides in some of these mismatches are that Nowitzki is a hustler, making up for misreads, closeout plays and double-teams with his constant shuffling and court-positioning. Also, he has, when he's really focused, some of the best hands in the league and has the height and length to naturally disrupt passing lanes and the opposition's forays to the basket.
Just look at some of his work in the Mavericks' great playoff runs of '03 and '06 when Nowitzki had to, at times, guard the likes of Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace and Amare Stoudemire, often on switches. The Dallas lifer disrupted some many of their games by making them tirelessly work on defense and using his quick feet to nag them into unsavory double-teams and sacrificial passes.
Another thing on his side defensively is the simple fact that a team that's made the playoffs 11 year's running has to have a solid defensive core. That means few weaknesses, even for upper-echelon offensive squads like the Mavs.
During their deep '03, '06 and now '11 NBA playoff runs, the team has fought and won some tough battles where the scores were in an un-customary 80 to 90 point range.
It's safe to say that Nowitzki can be a down-n'-dirty player, and so can his team when needs be.
Of course, it's hard to say anything about Nowitzki and the Mavs' place in history and not talk about there monumental meltdowns. Most notably in the '07, '08 and, some say, '10 NBA playoffs.
First, the one-seeded Mavs fell amidst a riotous sea of yellow t-shirts in the eight-seeded Warriors' remarkable first round upset in 2007. Then, as if the pain wasn't bad enough, they basically did it again, losing to the fifth-seeded Hornets in 2008.
With liabilities versus team's with more skilled, aggressive point guards, i.e. Baron Davis and Chris Paul, Dallas' Mark Cuban dealt away the likes of shoot-first guard Devin Harris and nabbed the ultimate playmaker in Jason Kidd, while keeping up-and-comer J.J. Barea and dependable Jason Terry.
But through it all, Nowitzki has always remained the focal point—Cuban's favorite son—brought to lead them to the promise land.
On the verge of their second Finals appearance in the Era of Dirk, this may, and may have to be the year.
Nowitzki, Kidd, Terry, Marion and Stojakovic—the core of this team's talent and experience—are all pushing into their mid-30s, and have to see this year as one of their final opportunities.
Never mind the tough first-round losses of yesteryear. If the soft seven-footer can finally lead his team to the 'ship it will make up for much, much heartache.
And, in a previous decade of amazingly dominant Lakers and Spurs squads and upstart eastern behemoths, it's hard to fault the Mavs when often times the pieces almost seemed to fit but didn't quite in such a time of parity and loyalty to the dollar.
Nowitzki has shown playoff heart many times, as well as lack of it, but this second season has been something to behold as he's hit big shot after big shot and had a Walton and Bird-esque 12-of-15-from the floor, 24-of-24 from the line for 48-points masterpiece in Game 1 of this year's Western Conference Finals.
His team also horribly dismantled one of the most hallowed franchises in professional sports: the Los Angeles Lakers, effectively and prematurely ending the career of legendary coach Phil Jackson and sending the team into an off-season scramble to find out what went wrong.
For Nowitzki and the Mavs, it seems this year is about beating back old ghosts, and the joyous and hard-working Nowitzki has found his time to shine.