35-year-old Dirk goes off for 40

DALLAS -- For Dirk Nowitzki, there's no better way to celebrate his first 40-point game in almost two years than a day off.

"I feel 45," the 35-year-old Nowitzki muttered as he got dressed after the Dallas Mavericks' 110-107 win Saturday night over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Coulda fooled all the people in the packed American Airlines Center who witnessed the vintage Dirk performance during the Mavs' fourth game in five nights.

Oh, Nowitzki might have looked like an old man during the first half. But he had plenty of bad company as the teams "built a house or two collectively" with all of their bricks, as Mavs graybeard sixth man Vince Carter put it. Nowitzki contributed to Dallas' dreadfully poor first-half shooting (27.3 percent) by missing six of his eight shots before the break.

Then, suddenly, Nowitzki put on a shooting clinic as pretty as any in his prime.

Half of Nowitzki's 40 points came during the third quarter. He lit it up for 15 during one phenomenal four-minute span, when he was 6-of-6 from the field, starting with a transition 3-pointer from the right wing and featuring two more 3s, a catch-and-shoot midrange jumper, a pump-fake, one-dribble jumper and a drive to the basket for a contested layup.

How did he heat up so quickly?

"I don't know," Nowitzki said. "I figured somebody's gotta get going in here."

Nowitzki finished the night 10-of-20 from the field, 5-of-9 from 3-point range and 15-of-16 from the free throw line. His second-half numbers -- 27 points, 8-of-12 from the field, 4-of-4 from 3-point range and 7-of-7 from the line -- were simply ridiculous.

It's rare for 35-year-olds to go off for 40 under any circumstances. In fact, Nowitzki is only the 12th player in NBA history that age or older to put up a 40-point game, joining a list that includes legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone and Larry Bird.

For a geezer to go off for 40 in the fourth game in five nights? That's almost unfathomable.

"What can you say about Dirk?" Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's amazing. He's the great one, you know?"

Nowitzki, who has always been honest to a fault, understands why there were so many doubters after the past couple of seasons. Those were his worst statistical years since he was a peach-fuzz-faced kid struggling to speak English and uncertain if he belonged in the NBA.

But Nowitzki had no uncertainty in his mind this offseason. He just had a burning desire to get his game back to the elite level he'd established as his standard.

"It was an important summer for me," said Nowitzki, who is averaging an efficient 21.3 points this season. "I was in here at least five times a week starting in May. I guess that's what you have to do when you're old, especially after the two years I've been through with the surgery and stuff and never really got back last year to the point where I wanted to be. So obviously there was some frustration."

There is still occasional frustration for Nowitzki that he can't always do what he used to do. Even after dropping 40 Saturday, he mentioned more than once the embarrassment of his off night in the blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs. He just didn't have anything in the tank that night, when he scored a season-low eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.

However, all that hard work from the offseason paid off Saturday night, when the old man somehow found the life in his legs to put the Mavs on his back at the end of a brutal stretch of schedule, more than earning the rest he'll get Sunday.

The days off mean more to Nowitzki than they used to. He means as much to the Mavs as he ever has.