SAN ANTONIO -- The Dirk Nowitzki bailout plan doesn't work every night.
When it's successful, it's spectacular. His franchise-record 29-point fourth quarter in last week's comeback win over the Utah Jazz was an epic performance.
But the Dallas Mavericks won't win often enough to be legitimate Western Conference contenders if they're a one-man offensive band. They weren't even good enough to beat the San Antonio Spurs with All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sitting on the bench in street clothes with sore ankles.
The Mavericks simply asked Nowitzki to do too much during Wednesday night's 92-83 loss to the shorthanded Spurs at the AT&T Center. Or perhaps Nowitzki pressed. It depends on the point of view.
"I thought I pressed it a little bit there in the second half," said Nowitzki, who scored 22 of the Mavericks' 45 points in the second half. "I felt like we didn't have anything going. The whole team was cold, so I probably took a couple of shots that I shouldn't have taken."
Countered point guard Jason Kidd: "We asked him to do way too much tonight. That just was not right for us as a team to put him in that position. We've got to take responsibility."
Nowitzki finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn't a pretty performance. He made only nine of 27 shots from the floor.
After a horrendous first half, Nowitzki heated up. By that time, the Mavs were already battling back from a double-digit deficit for the third time in five games.
His 22 points in the second half weren't too inefficient. He made six of 14 shots from the floor, nine of nine from the free throw line. But the Mavericks' offense became stagnant, relying almost solely on Nowitzki going to work one-on-one from various spots above the free throw line.
It didn't help matters that swingman Josh Howard played only three minutes in the second half because of soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle. But, even with Howard watching from the bench, the Mavericks have too many weapons to simply dump the ball to Nowitzki and watch possession after possession.
It almost worked, with the Mavericks trimming the deficit to four with four minutes remaining. But that isn't the point. It isn't a wise approach.
"You don't want to reduce it to having to go to just one guy to try to get on a roll," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We did it eight days ago against Utah. We had to overcome a huge deficit and ride him completely. We need to do it with more balance and more as a team."
Added Jason Terry, who had 19 points: "I know we've got a lot of talented players on this team and at any given time any of us can get it going. It's just something that we've got to re-evaluate and not ride him too much."
Part of it is Nowitzki's doing. He has to find the fine line between being the go-to guy and trusting his teammates.
Nowitzki acknowledged leaping over that line by shooting a contested, one-legged lean-away with 3:26 remaining. He forced the shot off the dribble on a possession coming out of a timeout with the Mavs trailing by four. San Antonio's Matt Bonner hit a 3 on the ensuing possession to essentially seal the Spurs' win.
"That was really the game-winner right there," Nowitzki said. "If I make a better move, a stronger move, it's a two-point game. We're right in it. That was a big swing.
"Maybe I was a little tired and I just pressed too much."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.