Dirk Nowitzki made his first start for the Dallas Mavericks this season on Saturday night, scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds in a 99-96 loss at home to the New Orleans Hornets.
It was Nowitzki’s seventh game since returning from October knee surgery and the Mavericks have been working him back into the rotation slowly. He’s averaging 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game in just less than 24 minutes a game since his return on Dec. 23.
The loss to the Hornets dropped the Mavericks a season-worst eight games below .500 and at 13-21, the playoffs would appear to be a pipe dream. Dallas is 12th in the Western Conference, 5½ games behind eighth-place Portland.
Saturday’s loss also dropped Dallas to a pedestrian 8-7 at the American Airlines Center, the second-worst home record in the West ahead of only the 3-13 put up by New Orleans.
The Mavericks have made the playoffs for 12 straight seasons, the second-longest current streak in the Association. Only the San Antonio Spurs, at 15 straight seasons, have a longer streak. The streak is tied for the 13th-longest in league history with the Baltimore/Capitol/Washington Bullets (1969-80), Philadelphia 76ers (1976-87) and Milwaukee Bucks (1980-91).
The longest streak ever was the 22 straight years the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers qualified for the postseason from 1950-71.
Dallas has lost eight of its last nine games and is just 1-6 since Nowitzki returned.
Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com that the decision to let Tyson Chandler and other key players from the 2010-11 team that won the NBA title may be “a mistake or not,” depending on whether or not Dallas is able to make any major acquisitions this offseason.
The Mavericks had hoped to add a superstar in his prime, or two, to help take some of the pressure off Nowitzki, now 34. But the plan got sidetracked when Chris Paul and Dwight Howard did not enter the free-agent market last summer.
Dallas had freed salary-cap space to make a run at both Paul and Howard—who can be free agents next summer—and didn’t land Deron Williams from the Brooklyn Nets.
“It’s going to be tough now,” Nowitzki said. “I always liked to think you don’t want to build your franchise on hope.
“We hoped for Deron last year. We hoped for Dwight. Why would he leave the Lakers? To me, it makes no sense. He’s in a great situation. Why would CP3 leave? (The Los Angeles Clippers) are the best team in the league probably right now. They’re probably the deepest team. So are you going to hope that we get something?”
Then Nowitzki invoked the “T” word for the second time in a week.
“We knew that coming in, that eight or nine new guys on one-year deals is not really an ideal situation, but what else is there to do?” Nowitzki said. “So either you break the whole thing up and trade me or you get a bunch of one-year deals and try to be a player next summer. That’s the decision we made, so now we’ve got to fight through it.”
Nowitzki has a no-trade clause in his four-year contract that expires at the end of next season.
But Nowitzki has often said he’s not seriously considering playing anywhere else. He has played his entire career in Dallas since being acquired in a draft-day trade from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998. The Bucks took Nowitzki with the No. 9 overall pick that year, then traded Nowitzki and Pat Garrity to the Mavericks for the late Robert Traylor.
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