How will he bounce back?
Can the Warriors shut him down again?
Is it too late to change MVP votes?
The Warriors have done a noteworthy job of shutting down Nowitzki lately. He was held to 13 points on 3-for-11 shooting the previous time he'd faced the Warriors, in Oakland on March 12. They are certainly game-planning for a motivated Nowitzki in Game 2 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a perennial producer, one of the league's future stars, is lurking in the shadows. Mavericks forward Josh Howard is hoping he gets overlooked.
"Whatever we can do to make the game easier for him," Howard said after the Mavericks' practice Monday. "I know what I've got to do night in and night out. I've got something for you, but I've got to play within my game. When it's time for me to shine, I'll shine."
Howard certainly hurt the Warriors in Game 1 finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and three steals. If not for a few missed layups, it would have been a typical outing for Howard, who went from being the last first-round pick in the 2003 draft to a 2007 All-Star reserve.
While the typical Howard is certainly enough to give Warriors coach Don Nelson reason to worry, the Warriors perhaps should be more concerned about the next level Howard can reach. Howard is perfectly capable of taking over Game 2 in the event Nowitzki never gets going.
"Josh is a very special player," Warriors swingman Mickael Pietrus said after practice at American Airlines Center. "Everyone looks at the first option, which is Dirk. You just need to make sure you keep an eye on Josh Howard. Because when he's on, he's hard to stop because he's slashing and rebounding and making shots and passing and (playing) defense."
The difficulty in defending Howard is that, unlike Nowitzki, he doesn't get a bunch of plays run for him. The Warriors know where Nowitzki is going to be on the court, what plays Dallas runs for him, from where he likes to work, etc. But Howard's scoring primarily comes through improvisation and off his intangibles, which are much tougher aspects to game-plan against. He also influences the game on defense and on the boards.
The Mavericks are just as dangerous with Howard having the big night. They are 17-1 when he scores at least 25 points. In 12 of those games Howard scored more than Nowitzki and equaled Nowitzki in two more.
Nowitzki said after Monday's practice that he might have to be a facilitator in this series. Because the Warriors are playing so close on him, with defenders quick enough to stay in front of him, Nowitzki is having a tough time getting off his jumper without forcing it. And, with the Warriors guards swarming him, taking the ball to the basket doesn't appear to be a safe option.
"I don't know if this is going to be my series where I'm going to take them off the dribble," Nowitzki said. "They were really all over me when I put the ball down."
But, if the Warriors continue with the same game plan, it creates opportunity for Howard, who has made a career of being overlooked.
"We don't want him to have one of his 30- or 40-point games," Warriors forward Stephen Jackson said. "It's hard because we're (collapsing on Dirk). But Josh is so smart, he cuts to the basket and gets layups. He's one of the best cutters in the game. It's going to take a total team effort. Josh is a great player."