Athlete Of The Week: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

The Nowitzki led Mavericks are up 2-0 of the Lakers.

James LeBeauby James LeBeau

Is it just me or has basketball been turned on its head this year? We had a somewhat surprising NCAA tournament that featured 2 teams that nobody expected to be there and now we have a NBA playoff that up to now has been as big a head shaker as any I've seen.

The top seeded team in the West, the San Antonio Spurs, were ousted by 8 seed Memphis. Atlanta, who stunk it up the final month heading into the postseason, whips a better seeded Orlando team to advance to the second round. Miami, who looked vulnerable all season despite how top heavy they were, is getting great bench play and is on the verge of sending the Celtics packing. But most surprising of them all has to be the Lakers losing both home games to the Dallas Mavericks to start round 2.

That's right, Los Angeles, who is hoping to three peat as NBA Champs, is down 0-2 to a Dallas team that has habitually folded up and went home early in the playoffs. For the record, this is a Dallas team that had previously been 0-10 in playoff games at L.A. But has shockingly found it's groove at just the right time.

"If you would have told me before that were going to win both games, that would have been hard to believe," Dallas Star Dirk Nowitzki said. "But I think we earned it."

Nowitzki, who has been averaging 27 points and 8 boards this postseason, has been the leader and focal point for this Mavericks team for quite a few years but it hasn't been till this postseason that he's truly shown the leadership necessary to get his team over the hump. A prime example of this came in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's game after Mavs backup point guard J.J. Barea made a sloppy turnover that led to an easy 2 points for L.A., cutting Dallas's lead to 6 with a little over 6 minutes to play. Nowitzki lit into Barea, yelling at him much to the delight of the Staples Center crowd. Barea responded by cutting through the Lakers defense and making a layup, increasing their lead back to 8.

This series is far from over but with Dallas heading home and Dirk shredding the Lakers defense like he is, things don't look good for Los Angeles to make it out of round 2.

"It's deeply rooted at this point. It's obvious that we have trust issues, individually," said Lakers Andrew Bynum, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds. "All 13 of our guys have trust issues right now. I think it's quite obvious to anyone watching the game — hesitation on passes, and defensively we're not being a good teammate because he wasn't there for you before — little things. And unless we come out and discuss them, nothing is going to change."

Photo Courtesy of:  ASSOCIATED PRESS