In the morning, LeBron James could not find enough adjectives to express his admiration and respect for Dirk Nowitzki. In the evening, despite the latter being considerably older, wiser and slower, there they were — two of the best players in the history of basketball in a time machine.
Who knows how many more of these we will ever see but for one night there was LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki going at it like as if they were both were still in their prime. There they were, Dirk and LeBron going at it like it was the 2011 NBA Finals.
Bron is still in his prime, but by NBA definition Dirk is an old man. Every now and then, though our favorite 37-year-old German’s still got it, he still needs help.
On Tuesday night in front of a packed house full of LeBron-loving and Cavalier band-wagon jumpers, the Mavs and Cavs played the rare memorable regular season game in January; two of the best players of this era were just that on the same floor at the same time.
The NBA regular season is a grind complete with countless forgettable nights and uninspired performances but Tuesday was a wonderful reason to watch.
Dirk was great, but the best player in the world was just that and the Cavs won 110-107 in overtime. The Cavs won because Bron is younger, and his supporting cast is better.
Early in the game it was fun to watch Dirk get caught on a switch and left to defend LeBron one-on-one on the baseline. It is a brilliant still photo — Bron holding the ball and Dirk nervously defending — but a horrible matchup.
On that one play, LeBron pulled up for a jumper and missed but he grabbed the offensive rebound which led to a Cavs’ basket. It’s the type of athletic play most guys simply can’t do.
Dirk finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but it was his two 3-pointers in the overtime that for a moment made it look as if not only were the Mavs going to pull off the upset, but that he was 27 rather than 37.
“Even as he’s gotten older he’s so efficient,” LeBron said of Dirk during the morning shootaround.
Dirk’s 3-pointers were after LeBron tied the game with an emphatic drive and dunk through traffic with 20 seconds remaining in regulation. LeBron finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
With all due respect to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or James Harden, there is no better player in the league than LeBron. When he wanted to, no Mavs defender could keep him from penetrating to the rim. Of course, no one in the league can.
Watching from the sidelines, where he had to worry and coach more than watch, the rarity of these moments were recognized by the coach himself.
“You are looking at two of the greatest players ever. I appreciate all of that stuff,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “That is not lost on me. I’m just disappointed we couldn’t get over the hump.”
Of the many great athletes and entertainers as we have seen over the years in this town, from Nolan’s fastball to Aikman’s passes to Modano’s speed and back-handed wrister, there have been few things quite as majestic and as pretty as the big man launching a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
The difference, however, was that Bron is still young and his teammates are better. In the overtime period, Dirk scored eight points whereas the All-Star trio of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for all of the Cavs’ 15 points.
Dirk’s teammates vanished in the overtime.
The Cavs will win the NBA’s East and reach the Finals again where, provided they are healthy, they will win the title. The Mavs will make the playoffs.
We are fast approaching the midway point of the regular season, and it is safe to say no one would have guessed our Mavs would be 22-17 after the Great DeAndre Jordan Fiasco of 2015. The Mavs have far exceeded our low expectations. When the season began, the Mavs figured to compete for the eighth seed in the West.
The way the season has played out, however, they are actually in fifth place.
Swing players Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews have exceeded expectations health wise, and contributed far more much earlier in the season. Center Zaza Pachulia has been a gift from God.
The Mavs are pretty good, they just need more, or for Dirk to be 27 again rather than 37.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.
Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof