The way Dirk Nowitzki was cooking Saturday afternoon, the table was all set for him to take the last shot for the Dallas Mavericks in their game against the Chicago Bulls.
Feasting on the Bulls all day, Nowitzki was 13 of 16 from the field before hoisting up a game-winning 3-pointer that rattled through the basket with 2.9 seconds left and helped the Mavs rally to an improbable 100-98 victory. For Nowitzki, it was another magnificent notch in his Hall of Fame career.
“He was having a phenomenal game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He was 8 for 8 in the first half, so we knew we had to keep getting him the ball.
“[Vince] Carter and [Mike] James did a great job of moving the ball and getting it into Dirk’s hands. I was standing right behind it as it was in flight, and there’s no doubt it was going in.”
Nowitzki, who finished with a season-high 35 points, had his doubts.
“The [3-pointer] actually in the corner right before that, I knew it was going in,” Nowitzki said. “But the game-winner, I wasn’t sure about.
“I’m happy it went in.”
It was the 12th career regular-season game-winning shot for Nowitzki and kept the Mavs (36-37) a game-and-a-half behind the Utah Jazz (38-36) and Los Angeles Lakers (38-36) in the chase for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
The Jazz is in the eighth spot, because it owns the tiebreaker over the Lakers by virtue of winning the season series 2-1. Meanwhile, the Mavs open a crucial four-game road trip Tuesday night in L.A. against the Lakers.
It’s a good bet the Mavs will find out early if Nowitzki packed his hot hand for this weeklong journey that also includes games in Denver, Sacramento and Portland.
Elton Brand said when Nowitzki is sizzling as he was against the Bulls, “you just have to feed him the ball. At the beginning of the third quarter I found myself open a few times.
“But I was like, I need to get it to Dirk to see if he’s still hot. When he’s that hot, you’ve got to see if he can keep going.”
Over the past three games, Nowitzki is averaging 29.7 points per contest and is shooting 62 percent from the field (36-of-58).
James gets physical
One of the hottest players at American Airlines Center this side of Dirk Nowitzki was Bulls point guard Nate Robinson.
When Robinson buried a 32-footer to give Chicago a 91-83 lead with six minutes left in the game, that was his career-high-tying seventh 3-pointer in seven attempts. It also was his last basket of the game, because Mavs point guard Mike James said he got mad and wasn’t going to take it any more.
“My teammates looked at me and said, ‘Look, stop asking for help on screens and turn that water hose off,’” James said. “And that was just my job.
“I had to make sure that I was going to lock down on the defensive end. I said you know what, I wasn’t going to get discouraged, but my main focus was he can’t score any more, even though he had a good three quarters or a good 44 minutes, or whatever the case is. Those last six or seven minutes, my main focus was you’re not going to put that ball in the basket any longer.”
With James shadowing him, Robinson was 0 of 2 from the field in the final six minutes, and both misses coming with less than 50 seconds remaining in the game. That included a missed 22-footer by Robinson at the buzzer which would have sent the game into overtime.
Also, James and Robinson received double technical fouls with 1:20 left for jawing at each other.