The greatness that is Dirk Nowitzki struck again Monday night at the Toyota Center.
Nowitzki poured in a game-high 31 points and converted 11-of-18 shots while leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 111-104 victory over the Houston Rockets. Afterward, leave it to forward Vince Carter to explain why Nowitzki will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play in the NBA.
“He’s very confident and he understands who he is and how he can dominate the game,” Carter said. “And that’s a dangerous player to me is a guy who knows, ‘Hey, I might not take you off the dribble, but at the same time, I’m going to score all day.’
“He has you at his mercy, and I think he also does a great job of just letting [the game] come to him.”
Carter marvels at how Nowitzki, 35, can get his shot off with uncanny accuracy almost any time he wants to.
“He’s not the quickest guy in the world,” Carter said. “But he knows how to get his shot off. He has great foot work.
“He just knows how to catch you sleeping. It’s amazing. Trust me, I’ve been on the other side of that before.”
So have many, many others.
With his superb performance against the Rockets, Nowitzki passed Alex English to become the 13th all-time leading scorer in NBA history. With 25,631 career points, Nowitzki now trails John Havlicek (26,395) in the 12th position by 764 points.
In his 16th season, Nowitzki has changed his diet and worked vigorously with weights so he can remain somewhat close to being the dominant player he was a few years ago.
“I prepare a lot, I do a lot of stuff outside now to be ready when the ball goes up, and I lift a lot and do some cardio and try to stay ready,” he said. “Hopefully I can ride it out a couple more years and then slowly fade away.”
But before he fades away, Nowitzki couldn’t help reminiscing back to 2011, when he led the Mavs to their only NBA title, and how his game has changed since that magical season.
“I had a pretty good groove there in ’11,” said Nowitzki, who averages 21.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. “Just driving the ball is what’s missing a little bit now.
“I do a lot of one and two dribbles and up. But I want to get back to driving some more to the basket and get to the foul line.”
For coach Rick Carlisle, it has to be comforting to know that when he needs a crucial bucket, he can turn to Nowitzki and he’ll more than likely deliver it.
“He’s a great player,” Carlisle said. “It’s all about setting him up with the right amount of minutes and with the right people on the floor.
“When he steps on the floor, you’ve got to have somebody within a foot of him anywhere he stands.”
Carlisle also has seen Nowitzki’s impact on his team in other avenues.
“Even when he’s not touching the ball, he’s a game-changer,” Carlisle said. “And he’s a very underrated defensive player because of his length and his knowledge of our system.
“He’s the franchise. He really is. He is the franchise player.”
Nowitzki, who has 20 or more points in 13 of his last 17 games, missed the first 27 games last season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. While he was never fleet of foot, the 7-footer from Germany has been beating opponents as much with his smarts as he has with his talent.
“The right knee is great — I feel better,” Nowitzki said. “I don’t think I’m in ’11 shape, but definitely compared to the last two years, I feel a lot better.
“I had a long summer of working out. I’ve been in the gym since May and I think it’s paying off for me.”