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Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Updated: January 14, 4:12 PM ET
Nowitzki hits while teammates miss

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki was in no mood to bask in his individual glory the night he hit the 20,000-point milestone.

His emotions were dominated by disappointment.

A historic accomplishment was ruined by another home loss. This one served as a sobering reminder that the Dallas Mavericks' only route to being a legitimate contender is to ride the big German's back.

"I'm not going to sit here and whine about it," Nowitzki said after scoring 30 points and snatching a season-high 16 rebounds in a 100-95 loss Wednesday night to the Los Angeles Lakers. "I want to have the ball at the end, and I want to make plays. Sometimes it's a pass. It's not always a shot to win it."

The Mavs needed a shot by Nowitzki to defeat the defending champions, who were playing without Pau Gasol and with a hobbled Kobe Bryant. Nowitzki deferred to open teammates on two possessions with the game on the line.

Those teammates didn't deliver, spoiling a spectacular individual performance by Nowitzki in the fourth quarter, when he had 15 points and six rebounds.

Nowitzki opened the quarter by hitting a 14-foot baseline jumper to reach 20,000 points, becoming the 34th player and first European to join that exclusive club, a moment celebrated with a standing ovation from the sellout crowd while a video featuring all of his milestone shots played on the arena big screens.

"I [couldn't] really care less about it right now," Nowitzki said. "In the future, in 10 or 20 years, it'll be a great achievement. I'll look back on it and be proud. Right now, it's nothing."

His fourth-quarter scoring flurry included a couple of driving layups, a fadeaway, a midrange jumper and a 3-pointer that knotted the game with 42.9 seconds remaining. Bryant, one of five other active players in the 20,000-point club, responded by hitting a tough pull-up over Josh Howard to give the Lakers the lead again with 28.9 seconds remaining.

And then Dirk, who has hit more game-winning shots in the past few seasons than anybody in the NBA, turned into a distributor for the final two possessions.

He dished to a wide-open Erick Dampier underneath the hoop, but the big man missed two free throws after Bryant delivered a smart, hard foul. With the Mavs trailing by three on their next possession, Nowitzki put the ball on the floor and fed Howard on the right wing for an open 3 that didn't come close to going down.

And, just like that, the Mavs' Southwest Division lead over the San Antonio Spurs was down to a half game.

"You can't deprogram a guy from making the right basketball play," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said when asked if he'd rather Nowitzki take a tough shot instead of pass to teammates with the game on the line.

Nowitzki expressed frustration earlier in the season, saying he felt like he had to make every shot down the stretch for the Mavs to win at the American Airlines Center, where they're 12-7 this season. He had no such complaints after the loss to the Lakers. Only second thoughts.

He said he put Dampier "in a tough spot" and should have made something else happen after catching the ball at the right elbow. He regretted not drawing contact from one of the airborne Lakers who flew at him when he caught the ball in the corner on the next possession.

"Afterwards," Nowitzki said with a sigh, "you're always smarter."

It doesn't take a genius to figure out how much the Mavs rely on Nowitzki in the clutch. He's come through much more often than not in such situations this season, including some simply phenomenal efforts. But Nowitzki, the only starter to score in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, needs more help than he's been getting.

"We're a team that's got to have a certain balance," Carlisle said. "It's tough when we've got to pile on and tell Dirk to go win the game for us in the last three minutes. It's not fair to him."

The 20,000-point man can only do so much.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.