In a game they simply had to have, it appeared as if the offensive rhythm was back for the Dallas Mavericks. And it's a coincidence they were back in rhythm as Dirk Nowitzki delivered a monster performance in the 108-101 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle often calls him "the great Dirk Nowitzki" and Dallas' face of the franchise answered the call in his team's time of need. Passing John Havlicek for 12th place on the NBA's scoring list became an afterthought as Nowitzki shot the lights out in Utah. He scored the first seven points of the game for his team and finished with 31 points on 12-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-4 on 3-pointers. The team made a steady and consistent effort to get Nowitzki the ball, allowing him to operate.
"Dirk played great. He really led our team tonight," Carlisle told reporters. "Our guys played with some real emotion. They knew the importance of the game.
"Dirk was great from start to finish. Look, 12-for-14 is ridiculous, and 4-for-4 from 3. It's hard to do much better than that."
It's quite a difference from a day earlier. Nowitzki said he was "passive" in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. He finished the game with only 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. He had only four shots in the first half Tuesday. He was 4-of-5 from the field after the first quarter of Wednesday's win.
"I just wanted to set the tone early," Nowitzki told reporters. "I just wanted to be as aggressive as I could and make things happen."
He did that, and did so efficiently. He's only the ninth player in league history since 1985-86 to score at least 31 points on 14 or fewer field-goal attempts and three or fewer free throws. Nowitzki and the Houston Rockets' Chandler Parsons are the only two players to accomplish that feat in the last four seasons.
Nowitzki is only the third player to accomplish it on the road, with the last player being Dan Majerle when played for the Miami Heat in a game in Minnesota against the Timberwolves on Jan. 11, 2000.
Nowitzki also set the tone by getting the ball on the very first play and drilling a fadeaway jumper over Marvin Williams. No matter the position on the court or the defensive adjustments, the shots kept falling. It looked as if Nowitzki was ready to make up for his 7-of-28 shooting performance over his previous two games.
"You never really know," Nowitzki said. "In my 16 years, I shot the ball great in warmups and I was terrible in the game. There were nights where I couldn't hit anything in warmups and then you're hot. It's kind of hard to judge.
"I made sure I got a couple extra of shots up because I haven't been quite on fire. I got out early, got loose and was really looking to get in my groove early and shoot and set a tone."
Because the Memphis Grizzlies secured a win at the buzzer over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday, the win by the Mavericks helped keep them just percentage points out of seventh in the West.
"We really don't want to get caught up looking at the standings every day, but it's kind of hard not to. That's how close it is," Nowitzki said. "[Golden State] was a big loss for us. That basically put sixth pretty much out of reach. We've got to focus on ourselves and play the best basketball that we can play coming here down the stretch."
The best basketball for Dallas involves a heavy and efficient dose of "the great Dirk Nowitzki." The Mavs don't necessarily need Nowitzki to always shoot the way he did against Utah, but they certainly need him to avoid games like Golden State.