Never change, Dirk. Never change.
Seconds after checking in at home for the first time in this, his 21st season with the Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki reminded everyone inside the American Airlines Center of one of the many reasons why he’s so beloved on and off the court: that sense of humor.
Nowitzki, the first player to ever play 21 seasons with the same team, had the ball kicked out to him near the center court logo where he acted like he was going to shoot, before sticking his tongue out with a grin and passing the ball.
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Those inside the AAC and his teammates, Luka Doncic in particular, got a kick out of it.
The Mavs could have used those three points.
Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox each had 28 points lead the Sacramento Kings to a 120-113 victory in front of 19,935 on Sunday, snapping the Mavs’ 11-game home win streak. A Dallas win would have tied the third-longest home win streak in franchise history.
Nowitzki, who missed the first 26 games this season while recovering from ankle surgery, appeased the crowd at the 7:48 mark of the second quarter when he sunk a technical foul free throw for his first point then, on the same possession knocked in a 15-foot jumper to give the Mavs a 43-40 lead in the midst of a 12-2 run. Those would be his only points of the game in 8:22 of playing time.
“It was good to be back in front of the home fans,” Nowitzki said. “I appreciate the warm welcome.”
Nowitzki is now 228 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the all-time scoring list. He’ll become the sixth player in NBA history to record 900 wins with Dallas’ next victory, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Tim Duncan, John Stockton and Karl Malone.
“[I’m feeling] good. Better than the other night,” Nowitzki said. “I don’t really know what the plan brings. We’re just going to take it game by game, get more cardo in. Maxi is playing well and we need his minutes. I don’t really know what the future brings.”
Doncic led Dallas with 28 points and nine assists. Harrison Barnes (15), Wesley Matthews (13), Jalen Brunson (12), and Maxi Kleber (11) each had double-figures. DeAndre Jordan grabbed a season-high tying 23 rebounds, including 10 offensive.
Dennis Smith Jr. missed the game due to a right wrist injury. This was his fifth game missed out of the last six; he played 27 minutes at Phoenix on Thursday. The Mavs were also without the services of J.J. Barea, who missed the game with a left ankle sprain.
“This isn’t about J.J. missing or Smith missing,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “They had two guys out too; [Iman] Shumpert and [Marvin] Bagley [III]. We just didn’t play well enough.”
The Kings took a 61-58 lead into the half on the backs of their own young backcourt of Fox and Hield, who had 14 and 17 points in the first 24 minutes respectively. Doncic was the only Mav to post double-figures in the first half with 13.
“In the latter stages of the second quarter it got ratty, which is what they like. We could never get enough traction,” Carlisle said. “We had a bad shooting night. That doesn’t help.”
The Mavs were 40 of 96 from the floor (41.7 percent) and just 9 of 35 from deep (25.7).
Hield, the 2016 Naismith Player of the Year out of Oklahoma, paced Sacramento in the third with nine points to help the Kings build a 93-83 lead heading into the fourth. The Kings were never really in danger of losing that lead, though, it did get a bit tense when a Matthews 3-pointer with 1:45 left cut Sacramento’s lead to 112-107.
Fox slithered his way to the hole on the following possession for a floater to give the Kings enough cushion.
“He’s a great young player, amazing motor,” Carlisle said. “His speed is breathtaking.”
Added Kings head coach Dave Joerger: “He’s wow.”
The Mavs will embark on a four-game West Coast road trip beginning on Tuesday at Denver at 8 p.m. Dallas will also visit the Clippers (Dec. 20), Golden State (Dec. 22) and Portland (Dec. 23) before returning home against New Orleans on Dec. 26.
“This trip coming up is a very challenging trip, a long trip,” Carlisle said. “It will test us in a big way.”