3-pointer: Dirk Nowitzki 'still a work in progress'

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki is a starter again, but he’s not a savior.

That’s not a realistic expectation for a 34-year-old with a patchwork supporting cast at any point. And Nowitzki certainly isn’t ready to put the franchise on his back again yet.

Nowitzki scored a season-high 20 points in 34 minutes Saturday, his most since rehabbing from the scope on his right knee, but he missed a clutch free throw with 18 seconds remaining in regulation and was shut out in overtime while the lowly Hornets handed the Mavs their eighth loss in nine games.

“Obviously I’m not quite there yet,” Nowitzki said. “I’m still a work in progress, especially playing 30 minutes and then being asked to get the ball down the stretch every time and make something happen. I don’t think I’m at that point yet, but I’m going to keep working in that direction.”

The Mavs’ season might be too much of a mess to clean up by the time Nowitzki works his way back to superstar status.

At 13-21, the Mavs are five games behind the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, who are tied for what would be the West’s last two playoff spots. The Phoenix Suns and Hornets are the only teams in the West with worse records than the Mavs.

“I’d still like to think if I’m healthy all year and playing at the level I finished last year, we’d be a lot closer to the eight spot,” said Nowitzki, who missed the first 27 games of the season. “I’d like to think we’d have won some of those close games and then maybe all the discussion wouldn’t be happening. We’d still be right there fighting for the playoffs.

“But now we’re farther behind because of my surgery, obviously. So now everything comes down a little harder than it should if I was healthy all year.”

A few more notes from the Mavs’ rock-bottom-hitting loss:

1. Wide-open woes: The Mavs went 3-for-9 from the floor in overtime. It wasn’t for a lack of good looks.

O.J. Mayo was 1-of-4 from the floor in overtime, missing three wide-open shots, a pair of 3-pointers and a pull-up after he made a nice move to get in the paint. Vince Carter’s potential tying corner 3 at the buzzer was uncontested but didn’t go down.

“We had some great looks in overtime,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We just couldn’t get them down.”

2. No defense: Of course, this game wouldn’t have gone to overtime if the Mavs did a halfway decent job on defense after halftime. The Hornets shot 50 percent from the floor and hit 4-of-7 3-pointers in the second half.

New Orleans point guard Greivis Vasquez looked like an All-Star in the second half, when he had 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting and six assists with no turnovers.

“It seems like we can’t guard nobody,” Shawn Marion said. “Until we’re able to contain guys and make them do something they’re uncomfortable doing, we’re going to have problems. When you can’t guard nobody, you can’t win.”

Added Carlisle: “We’ve gotta be better at knowing hot players, finding them. We’re struggling with some little things that are killing us.”

3. Boo-who?: Elton Brand wouldn’t blame the sellout crowds at the AAC one bit if they let the Mavs have it.

“I appreciate these fans sticking fans sticking with us,” Brand said. “If we would have been in Philadelphia, we would have been booed off the floor for sure.”