DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki finally looked like the dude who won the Finals MVP just a matter of months ago.
And the Mavs lost Friday night?!
“This season is rife with ironies,” coach Rick Carlisle said after the under-the-radar-contender Indiana Pacers walked out of the American Airlines Center with a convincing 98-87 win over the defending NBA champions.
The Mavs boarded their charter flight to Cleveland with a two-game losing streak as baggage and mad as hell -- Shawn Marion actually used much more colorful language -- but Nowitzki’s performance at least provided a silver lining to an otherwise ugly outing.
A day after basketball coroner Charles Barkley signed Dirk’s death certificate as an elite go-to guy, declaring the face of the Mavs’ franchise another victim of Father Time, the big German’s game came back to life.
Nowitzki knocked down jumpers the midrange jumpers that have been the foundation of his Hall of Fame-caliber game for the previous 13 seasons. He hit a 3-pointer, which has been shockingly rare this season. Most encouraging of all, he had some success driving against rugged Indiana power forward David West ’s in-your-face defense.
But his season-high 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting wasn’t nearly enough.
“I’ve never liked big numbers in a loss. Never have,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve had 50 before and we lost and it doesn’t mean anything. But to me it’s good to know that the leg strength is coming back, the rhythm is coming back, but like I said, it doesn’t mean anything in a loss.”
It does mean there’s tangible hope that Nowitzki, who scored a total of only 28 points in the three games after his week-plus personal training camp/paid furlough, might get back in MVP mode soon.
It means the hard work Dirk has done recently with the Mavs’ staff and longtime mentor Holger Geschwindner might pay major immediate dividends.
“At some point, this kind of game was going to be a reality,” Carlisle said. “It was great to see because he was doing everything. He was shooting the ball, he was driving the ball, rebounding. Overall, he was very active. Very positive.”
And yet so very frustrating was that the Mavs couldn’t keep up with the Pacers even with a hot Nowitzki, whose offensive numbers for the season are the lowest since his rookie year.
Nowitzki had only his second 20-point performance since Jan. 4 by the midway point of the second quarter. Then he went quiet until the game was out of reach.
The Pacers limited Nowitzki to only two shots from the floor in the first 18-plus minutes of the second half. Indiana switched to a less aggressive pick-and-roll coverage, using a “short-show” technique that kept a man close to Nowitzki, to disrupt Dallas’ offensive rhythm and keep the Mavs out of transition.
The Mavs' offense went kaput when they stopped getting the rock to Nowitzki. Dallas scored only 34 points on 32.4 percent shooting in the second half, and those numbers were inflated during garbage time.
It was a rough reminder of the importance of Jason Kidd ’s role as a floor general.
“Without Kidd out there directing the ball it’s hard, and then finally there in the fourth quarter I just ran to the ball wherever it was,” Nowitzki said. “Just give it to me.”
Nowitzki scored eight essentially meaningless points in the final 5:29 of the game.
But maybe, just maybe, this game means the Metroplex’s favorite German is back.