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Cuban, after Dirk's dominance: 'This is his time'

3/26/2014

DALLAS -- Did you think Dirk Nowitzki was done?

The face of the franchise asked a variation of that question rhetorically in a preseason promotional video for the Dallas Mavericks. Maybe the thought of the big German running out of gas for this season crossed a few minds after last week's slump, which hit a low with one of the worst shooting nights of Nowitzki's life in Sunday's overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Just 48 hours later, any creeping doubt about Dirk was crushed as he delivered one of the best all-around performances of his Hall of Fame career, carrying the Mavs to a much-needed, magnificently entertaining 128-119 overtime win Tuesday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"Dirk was Dirk," said Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who has seen Nowitzki respond to off nights with spectacular performances so many times. "He was fired up. That's what he does. It's no surprise.

"He's done that his entire career. There's no reason to think it's going to change now. This is his time, right? This is where he gets to show everybody what he can do, and it started tonight, right when we needed it."

The line in the box score -- 32 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals -- doesn't even do Dirk's night justice. You had to see his emotion, the intensity in his face, the fire in his eyes, the passionate fist pumps as he screamed an F-word he swears was, "Finally!" following his overtime dagger 3-pointer to fully appreciate this performance.

As far as the Mavs are concerned, this might as well have been a playoff game. If they would have suffered their third overtime loss in a week, the Mavs would have been on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in, a half-game behind the hot Phoenix Suns.

The postseason version of Dirk showed up for a potential playoff preview. That's the guy who joins Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bob Pettit as the only players in NBA history with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.

Nowitzki, who needed and got help from a long list of teammates to beat one of the West's best, admittedly had a little extra determination after his dud Sunday against the Nets. He put that loss, as well as the overtime setback to the Minnesota Timberwolves last week, on his shoulders and was determined not to let his team down again in a game against a contender the Mavs desperately needed.

"He's a prideful guy," Mavs coach Carlisle said. "I just think that great players are great for a reason. They never let anything keep them down for long. He's bounced back from every adversity that he's had in his career, so this is no surprise."

The surprise is when Nowitzki stinks, the way he had for the previous five games, when he shot just 41 percent from the field. Nowitzki's funk was foul enough that longtime mentor and shot doctor Holger Geschwindner hopped on a plane in Germany, moving his planned late-season visit up a bit.

"I guess he was tired of watching my shooting percentages over the last couple of weeks and he flew in today," Nowitzki cracked.

Nowitzki swished some beauties, such as a spinning, one-legged fadeaway over MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant during overtime, but finesse and skill weren't what made this performance special. This was about aggression and attitude.

The first time Nowitzki touched the ball, catching it on the left block with his back to the basket, he spun past Thunder shot-blocker Serge Ibaka and threw down a two-handed dunk. He kept his foot on the gas the entire game, finishing it off with seven points in overtime, only one fewer than the Thunder scored in the extra period.

"I wanted to attack a little more instead of just hoisting tough shots, so I put the ball on the floor a little bit," Nowitzki said. "I was just in attack mode a little bit more and wasn't hesitating as much. Even in the fourth, I missed a bunch of shots in a row, but I was in attack mode tonight. I was gonna keep coming. I was gonna keep shooting whatever I got my hands on.

"Obviously last game was disappointing for me. Never really had games where I'm just looking around and hesitating too much. I had to go back to less thinking and just having fun out there and being me."

This was the Dirk that Dallas has grown to unconditionally love.

Nowitzki isn't nearly done. His time is now.