Dirk Nowitzki takes a step toward his norm

DALLAS – The glimpse of the greatness that folks used to take for granted with Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t good enough Monday night.

The Mavericks managed to blow what they considered a must-win game against the Atlanta Hawks despite Nowitzki’s 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting.

His rare Dirk-like performances haven’t led to wins so far during this frustrating season for the face of the Mavericks’ franchise. The Mavs are 0-4 when Nowitzki scores at least 20 points, a trend sure to end soon.

The hope is that Nowitzki’s efficiency in the loss to the Hawks begins another trend. The Mavs desperately need a dominant Dirk to have any realistic hope of getting back to .500 and trimming their beards, much less making a playoff push.

“I want to be a player again,” Nowitzki said Monday night, meaning that he wants to play to his Hall of Fame standards. “That’s for sure. I’m not going to take the pedal off the metal now. I’ve got to keep pushing. I’ve got to keep getting better.”

Just as Nowitzki felt like he was nearing his norm after missing 27 games while recovering from a scope on his right knee and mostly struggling for a month after his return, Father Time made his presence felt. He strained his right adductor late in his season-high 26-point performance Jan. 29 in Portland and missed the next two games, ruining the rhythm he had finally established.

The good news was Nowitzki moved well the next few games, although the adductor (a muscle in the upper leg) wasn’t completely healed. The bad news: He was in a miserable shooting funk, going 13-of-42 from the floor, a clip of 30.9 percent.

The shots finally fell for Nowitzki again against the Hawks, with him hitting 3-of-4 3-pointers and 5-of-6 free throws.

“I felt good tonight,” Nowitzki said. “I probably should have actually shot a little bit more, should have been more aggressive. I thought I was moving fine. The jumper actually felt good today. I actually passed up a couple of opportunities that I should have shot the ball.

“Once I start feeling better on a regular basis, I’m probably going to shoot some of these shots again and be a little bit more aggressive.”

That’s the next step in Nowitzki’s return to his norm.