It was an ugly second half of basketball for the Dallas Mavericks, who were completely blown out by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs hit 20 3-pointers -- setting a franchise-high -- and steadily built on their lead from the opening tip.
But for the Mavericks, there was bigger news than the score. The fact that Dirk Nowitzki -- doing his best Santa Claus impersonation -- played in his first game of the season after going through rehab following arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 19 is important for the long-term prospects of the team.
It was thought Nowitzki wouldn't return until after Christmas, but he felt good enough in shootaround that he decided to give it a go. He came off the bench with 6:28 left in the first quarter for his first action. Nowitzki played 20 minutes and scored eight points with six rebounds. He did not play in the fourth quarter, with the game totally out of hand. But the mere fact that he gave it a try and began the process of getting his legs back under him and getting used to game speed can only help this club in the future.
They need a lot of help, as the final score indicated. The Mavericks fell behind early Sunday and never recovered. The Spurs turned a 12-point halftime lead into a 34-point advantage after the third quarter, reaching 100 points as the fourth quarter began.
Dallas could not stop San Antonio's perimeter shooting and once again had too many turnovers. The Mavericks had 20 turnovers, which the Spurs turned into 25 points. San Antonio had 17 turnovers, but the Mavericks managed just six points off those turnovers.
The Spurs move to 10-2 at home and will face the Mavericks in Dallas on Dec. 30.
What it means: Nowitzki's return provides a big boost for the Mavericks, despite Sunday's loss. They are in a difficult stretch of six consecutive contests against teams with winning records (they've got three left in this run -- at Oklahoma City, home vs. Denver and home vs. San Antonio) and could certainly use Nowitzki's presence.
But the loss means Dallas is four games below .500 and has lost six of its past seven. They need to try to steady things with six of their next nine games on the road. The Mavericks are just 4-12 away from American Airlines Center.
Play of the game: Sticking with the theme, let's give that one to Nowitzki too. He scored his first points of the 2012-13 season with a dunk with 26.6 seconds left in the first quarter. Nowitzki ran the floor, slipped in behind the defense and Darren Collison made a nice bounce pass as Nowitzki dunked it to close the deficit to seven points in the first. It was his first shot attempt as well, and an easy one.
Stat of the night: The Mavericks had no answer for San Antonio's 3-point shooting, especially Danny Green. He made seven 3-pointers (on 7-for-8 shooting) and as a team, the Spurs were 20-for-30 from 3-point land. The 20 made 3-pointers tied a franchise record for the Spurs and was just three shy of the NBA record. Dallas didn't shoot the ball poorly, but they couldn't stop Green and couldn't come close to matching the Spurs' perimeter shooting, not to mention 20 turnovers, something that has been a problem for this team most of the season.
Stat of the night II: Dallas is under .500 heading into Christmas Day for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. A little more than a week later in that season (Jan. 4, 2000), Mark Cuban bought the Mavericks.