DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki went home from his latest dramatic performance in the NBA finals, took a shower then slurped some chicken soup and hot tea. After a good night's rest, he returned to work Wednesday still dealing with a slight temperature and the sniffles, so he took it easy.
For a few hours.
Nowitzki said he was planning to be back in the gym later Wednesday to put up some shots and "at least get the body used to sweating a little bit."
With only two or three games left this postseason, Nowitzki figures he will soon have plenty of time to deal with a sinus infection and everything else that ails him. So he's determined to put whatever energy he has left into getting the two wins he and the Dallas Mavericks need to become NBA champions for the first time.
"At this stage, after playing eight, nine months on a high level ... nobody is completely healthy," Nowitzki said. "So it's time to fight through some stuff."
Nowitzki is fighting as hard as anyone.
He tore the tendon at the tip of his left middle finger during Game 1, then led a winning rally at the end of Game 2, even scoring two of his final three baskets using his wounded hand. He scored Dallas' final 12 points in Game 3, but missed his final shot at the buzzer when he could've forced overtime.
The morning of Game 4, he showed up for a shootaround "looking like a ghost," said Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations. Club officials sent him to the locker room, then to his house with all sorts of medicine.
Before the game, no one knew what to expect. Of course Nowitzki was going to try playing. But how long would he last? How good would he be?
"Dirk is a playful guy and outgoing and outspoken when it comes to the locker room," center Tyson Chandler said. "Seeing him not being playful and not really saying much and kind of sitting in his locker, I knew it was going to be a tough night for him."
All seemed well when Nowitzki opened the game by hitting three straight shots. Then he missed 10 of 11. He also misfired on a free throw, ending his second run of 39 in a row this postseason.
By then, the secret about Nowitzki's illness was out. He was wheezing, coughing and doing all he could to fight the effects of a 101-degree fever.
"His wind didn't look the same," guard Jason Terry said. "But for the most part he was intense, he was locked in, he was focused."
Nowitzki scored 10 of his 21 points and grabbed five of his 11 rebounds while the Mavs pulled off another late comeback, erasing a nine-point deficit with 10:12 left. This rally kept them from falling into the black hole of a 3-1 deficit, instead putting them right back in the thick of things at 2-2.
Comparisons instantly were made to Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 finals while battling a fever of 103. Nelson called it "our version of Willis Reed," except Reed only had the first four points for the New York Knicks when he made his dramatic appearance for the tipoff of Game 7 of the 1970 finals.
"I think last night was one of the most inspirational, gut performances in Mavs history," Nelson said. "If he doesn't tough it out and if he doesn't come back, there is no way (the Mavs win). I don't even know how he was standing in that fourth quarter because that was a physically taxing game. Hat's off. We're here at 2-2 because of him. ... Like all great players, you just find a way. You shut off the physical. All great players have that psyche. Their mind is able to overcome whatever limitations they have."
Apparently, even on an off day, as evidence by Nowitzki's plans to return to the arena later in the day.
Nelson didn't know about that plan, but also wasn't surprised.
"He better be feeling real good if that's the case," Nelson said, laughing. "He'll probably do a little free throws, a little technical stuff. He's a big boy now. He understands that he can't be burning up energy now like he could when he was 22."
Nowitzki has plenty of company on the injured list.
Backup center Brendan Haywood lasted only three minutes in Game 4 because of a hip injury that kept him out the previous game. He said Wednesday "we'll see" when asked about his chances of playing in Game 5.
Chandler picked up the slack by playing a team-high 43 minutes. Shawn Marion was limited to 26 minutes after playing a team-high 43 the previous game. Terry is also getting over a bone bruise in his shooting wrist sustained in Game 1.
And don't forget about Nowitzki's damaged digit. At a news conference Wednesday, he left middle finger was held straight with a tongue depressor taped under it as a makeshift splint.
Hey, it's the playoffs. Whatever it takes.
"Basically, for a month and a half, two months, you're living on the edge every night," Nowitzki said. "You're thinking about it, eat, breathe, sleep basketball, and that's what's fun about the playoffs, but also very draining.
"We have one more week to go, both teams, and we're going to go for it. Both teams are going to get their vacation afterwards."