Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-high 26 points in Portland but lamented that the Mavs haven't been able to win games down the stretch.
The Dallas Mavericks star power forward was at least looking an awful lot like his old self Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, putting his team on his back and hitting big shots down the stretch in front of a hostile crowd.
It was a season-high 26-point performance for Nowitzki which included a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to give the Mavs a 104-101 lead.
The fact that it was in Portland, where the Mavericks' 2011 playoff run en route to the NBA championship all started, made Nowitzki's performance even more nostalgic.
But this time, another power forward stole the show.
Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge hit a step-back 3 to tie the score with five seconds left, then a game-winning turnaround baseline jumper at the buzzer to give the Trail Blazers a 106-104 victory over his hometown team.
"The difference between a good team and a bad team sometimes is just a couple possessions down the stretch, and we haven't really found a way to win those games consistently," Nowitzki said. "Usually in this league you win some and you lose some, but for some reason more times than not we're losing those games. It's extra tough."
If there's one bright spot to take from the Mavericks' dismal finish to Tuesday's game -- Dallas led by 21 points early in the third quarter -- it's Nowitzki's resurgence after having arthroscopic knee surgery in October that led to him missing the season's first 27 games.
He came into the game having scored 18 in Dallas' 110-95 victory Sunday over Phoenix.
Against Portland, Nowitzki seemed to get stronger as the game went along.
He had 10 at the half on 5-of-8 shooting. In the fourth quarter, he hit two 3-pointers and a number of clutch shots down the stretch. He finished the night 11-of-21 from the field and 2-of-6 from distance.
After Portland took its first lead of the second half at the 6:43 mark of the fourth quarter on Sasha Pavlovic's layup, Nowitzki answered with his first 3 of the game.
He then hit a baseline jumper with 3:53 left to stretch the Mavericks' lead to 96-92.
His 3 with 28 seconds left gave him 12 points in the quarter.
"It's getting better, getting better; we knew that," he said. "It was ugly the first couple weeks, but my legs and my wind is coming back. I felt fine out there."
Still, his best performance of the season came under lousy circumstances.
After Aldridge tied the score, O.J. Mayo was called for an offensive foul while attempting what could have been the game-winning shot on a floater in the lane.
"Usually you make a 3 and are up three with 30 seconds to go, you've got to get one stop, got to get one stop, and we didn't," Nowitzki said.
The close losses keep adding up in the month of January, which also includes three overtime losses and three six-point defeats for the Mavs.
"It's about as tough as it gets in this league, for sure," Nowitzki said. "We play well enough to win, but more than not we find ways to lose rather than find ways to win. And that's the sad thing. But hey, you've got to try to keep working. This team is resilient."
Nowitzki said he's eager to look at film Wednesday, particularly the defensive breakdowns that led to 32 points in the third and fourth quarters for the Blazers. He said when Portland brought in outside shooting forward Luke Babbitt to start the second half, it freed up Aldridge, who finished with a game-high 29 points, to go to work inside.
"I thought that changed the game a little bit, when they put another shooter in and they made a huge run," Nowitzki said. "We didn't do a good job executing down the stretch. ... To give up 32 in the third and 32 in the fourth, that's a losing formula."