Something special will be in the air Tuesday night when the Dallas Mavericks host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center.
On one hand, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki is the NBA’s No. 6 all-time leading scorer and a virtual lock to one day be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
On the other hand, James is generally regarded as the game’s best player who will eventually have his Hall of Fame bust in the same iconic building in Springfield, Mass.
“He’s one of the greatest players ever,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of James. “People that have the good fortune to come to this game are going to see two of the greatest players in history on the floor at the same time, with him and Dirk.
“That’s a pretty special occasion, really, if you look at it that way.”
Not only is the game special, it’s also rare.
A Nowitzki-James matchup features two legends who lead their teams in scoring. With Kobe Bryant leading the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring, the only other time that scenario plays out is when the Lakers play the Mavs or the Cavs.
Nowitzki, meanwhile, doesn’t allow himself to be absorbed with matching his greatness against that of James. But Nowitzki and the Mavs did defeat James and the Miami Heat for the 2011 NBA title — with Nowitzki walking away with MVP honors.
“I’m just enjoying good competition my last couple of years, and trying to play at a high level,” Nowitzki said after Monday’s practice. “Winning is still fun to me, and that’s really all I’m worried about.”
This will be James’ lone appearance in Dallas this season, and tickets are going for a premium.
“It’s pretty much a happening wherever he goes,” Carlisle said. “Every arena is full, fans are jacked up to watch him play and he’s one of the most special players in the history of the game.
“Look, he’s a great player and he’s one of the best ever. He’s as good an all-around player as I’ve ever seen in this league, and I have great respect for him and our guys do, too.”
James leads the defending Eastern Conference champions with 25.8 points per game on 50.1 percent shooting from the field. He also averages 7.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.5 steals.
Nowitzki leads Dallas with 17.7 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range. He also averages 6.7 rebounds.
“Obviously, LeBron is one of the best players we’ve got in this world — not only his offense but his all-around game, his passing, his rebounding, his defense,” Nowitzki said. “It’s going to be tough; it’s going to be a challenge.
“We’ve got to play with energy and with force against this team. They’re also very good defensively, and they’re a very good rebounding team, so we’ve got our hands full.”
The Mavs will have their hands full this entire week. In addition to hosting the Cavs, the Mavs have road games Wednesday at Oklahoma City, Friday at Chicago and Sunday at San Antonio.
But first things first: Dallas must deal with King James and his arsenal.
“James is great on both sides of the ball,” Carlisle said. “He can play five positions on the floor. He’s a menacing weapon for them because of his all-around ability, really, to do anything on the basketball court.”
So how do the Mavs contain James?
“I’m not going to tell you guys what we’re going to do game-plan wise,” Carlisle said. “That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?
“I appreciate the question, but I’m not going to answer it.”