Practice Dirk Nowitzki - LAL 012516

Dirks Nowitzki on Kobe and what it's been like to face MJ of this generation.

Dirk Nowitzki will face Kobe Bryant tonight for the 50th time in his career. It will also be the last time these two players ever share the court in a regular season game.

The Lakers legend announced early this season that he will retire at season’s end. With L.A. far out of the playoff picture, the odds of these two meeting again in the postseason are slim. This will be it for the Big German and the Black Mamba.

While the two titans of the game have only matched up once in the playoffs, they will forever be connected not just because of their talent, but also because of their mutual respect for one another. Nowitzki has always considered Bryant one of his favorite players, even calling him the greatest player of this generation. It’s an argument that’s tough to refute — Bryant has won five championships with the Lakers, two Finals MVPs, and a pair of scoring titles. Split hairs all you want between Bryant and Tim Duncan, but every debate over who owned the Aughts always starts and ends with those two. For what it’s worth, Nowitzki has a strong claim at the No. 3 spot.

The Blonde Bomber vs. the Black Mamba Wins Pts/gm Reb/gm Ast/gm
Dirk Nowitzki 17 22.8 10.0 2.5
Kobe Bryant 32 25.5 6.8 5.0

**Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. Does not include playoffs.

“It was a pleasure to compete against him, to get to know him at some All-Star Games, see how he ticks, see how he clicks, see how he thinks, picking his brain on occasions… it’s been incredible for us,” Nowitzki said. “I think (Kevin Durant) said it best: Of our generation, he was our Michael Jordan. The shot-making, the playmaking, the clutch shots, scoring at will at times — it was incredible to watch.

“I always say there were times when we played at home and it was like 11 o’clock and it’s only 9 o’clock (in L.A.) and I sat on the couch watching the Lakers fourth quarter, watching Kobe take over games. It’s something I’ll always remember — his clutch gene and his ability to make tough shots.”

Dirk and Kobe both sit in the top-six on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Together, they’ve scored 61,947 career points. In their 49 battles, the two have combined for 2,366 points — that’s more than 2,734 NBA players have scored in their entire career.

There wasn’t an All-Star Game roster between 2002-2012 which didn’t include both their names. They both made an All-NBA squad every season from 2001-2012. Nowitzki won the MVP in 2007, Bryant in 2008. Bill Russell handed the Finals MVP trophy to Bryant in 2009 and 2010, and then to Nowitzki in 2011. Dirk and Kobe are two of just five active players Basketball-Reference.com gives a 100 percent chance to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That’s a fitting stat if there ever was one, because these are unquestionably two of the greatest players there have ever been. From 2005-2008, these were arguably the two best players in the NBA.

Moreover, it’s virtually impossible to think about the Mavericks without Nowitzki immediately coming to mind. He and the franchise are inextricably linked. And while countless legends of the game over the years have called L.A. home, Bryant is in his 20th season with the Lakers and has become synonymous with Los Angeles. He, too, is forever linked with his organization. These two players have spent a combined 38 seasons in this league, and neither have suited up for another team. Neither ever will, either.

Practice Coach Carlisle - LAL 012516

Coach Carlisle talks about facing the Lakers and Kobe for the last time.

Nowitzki and Bryant also even shared a similar penchant for taking on challenges. Kobe was the first great shooting guard in the post-Jordan NBA and happily accepted the task of following in his footsteps. Dirk looked to erase every ridiculous stereotype attached to European players. Not only did he accomplish that feat, but he also ushered the NBA into a new global era, with every team spending more resources on international scouting following his undeniable rise to stardom in just a few seasons.

Even the shots these two take represent an ability to defy conventional wisdom. Bryant’s fadeaways over double-teams have perplexed coaches and players for two decades, while Nowitzki’s one-legged fade and dead-eye shooting revolutionized his position. In an era defined by explosive athleticism at every position, the ground-bound Nowitzki has routinely made the impossible look ordinary.

Every Mavs fan will remember that magical 2011 second-round sweep as one of the highlights of the Nowitzki era. It’s hard to say otherwise, but the Lakers fell in four games not because of Bryant’s production. Kobe averaged 23.3 points per game that series, including a 36-point performance in Game 1, in which his buzzer-beating three-pointer rimmed out. It’s hard to imagine how different that series might have turned out had that shot fallen. Nowitzki, meanwhile, scored 25.3 points per game on 57.4 percent shooting from the field and a blistering 72.7 percent from deep, adding 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He put together three consecutive masterpieces in Games 1-3, scoring 28, 24, and 32 points, respectively.

Rather than dwell only on their lone playoff series, however, let’s take a look back at some of their more significant meetings in the regular season. (Some that didn’t make the cut: Nowitzki’s third career 30-point game came in a 1999 road loss, Bryant scored 62 points against the Mavs in just three quarters in 2005, and Dirk scored 31 in a 2010 win as the Mavs surged in the season’s second half.)

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April 18, 2000: Mavs 112, Lakers 102

Heading into this game, the Mavericks had lost 19 straight and 27 of 28 against the Lakers. Dallas had spent most of the ’90s as a lottery team, while late in the decade the Lakers acquired both Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and the dynasty was blossoming. However, this Mavs team was different — it was an upstart group with a 21-year-old Nowitzki and his sidekicks Steve Nash and Michael Finley. Nowitzki scored only 10 points on the night, but Nash and Finley combined for 48 and Cedric Ceballos scored 21 off the bench to give Dallas a win in its last home game of the season, while the Lakers would eventually win the club’s first championship since 1988 when, ironically, the Lakers and Mavs squared off in the Western Conference Finals. The Mavs ended the season winning 11 of their final 13 games, compiling a 40-42 record. It would be the last time Dallas missed the playoffs for 13 years.

Dirk: 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
Kobe: 16 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists

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March 2, 2008: Lakers 108, Mavs 104

Dallas and L.A. were jockeying for playoff positioning in a loaded Western Conference in which first place would finish the season just seven games ahead of eighth. Reigning MVP Nowitzki was in town to face eventual MVP Bryant, and the Sunday matinee was nationally televised. It was a big game that certainly lived up to the billing, featuring 15 ties and seven lead changes.

What really made this one stand out was how dominant Dirk and Kobe were that day. At one point Nowitzki absolutely took over, scoring 21 of the Mavs’ 23 points, including a three-pointer to tie the game at 93 with 2.0 seconds left. Bryant, meanwhile, scored 22 in the fourth quarter and added eight in overtime to finish the game with 52 points, his second highest-scoring game against the Mavericks. Of the 79 points scored in the fourth and OT, the legends accounted for 51 of them. Unfortunately Nowitzki couldn’t make it 54, as a trey attempt to tie with 4.9 ticks left was off the mark and the Lakers prevailed. L.A. would advance to the Finals but lose to the Celtics, while the Mavs would bow out in the first round against Chris Paul and future Maverick Tyson Chandler and the Hornets.

Dirk: 30 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals
Kobe: 52 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks

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Feb. 24, 2013: Lakers 103, Mavs 99

In a throwback for the ages, Nowitzki and Bryant had an old-fashioned scorers duel, with Dirk scoring 30 and Kobe piling up 38 of his own as the Lakers pulled one out at the last second. This was a trying season for both franchises, as the Lakers battled injury and expectations with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard entering the fold. Meanwhile, Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season following knee surgery. Both teams shockingly came into the game under .500, and the Mavs would eventually finish the season 41-41 while the Lakers would go 45-37 and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

This game, however, provided to us a highlight that could last a while. Neither player has reached the 30-point plateau against one another since, with Nowitzki coming closest at 25 points on Nov. 1, 2015. Bryant has in fact only topped 38 points five times total since that game, while Nowitzki has eclipsed the 30-point barrier 16 times. In some respects, their performances that day are suspended in time. Those masterpieces were not the work of past-their-prime old men. While those two were battling injury, age, and the burden of expectation, that Sunday afternoon still stands out as a pearl. If that’s going to be the last great Dirk and Kobe showdown, so be it — there haven’t been many better.

Dirk: 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals
Kobe: 38 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists

Mavs fans should have plenty of memories of Bryant performing in Dallas, but there might not have been a cooler moment in the pair’s history than earlier this season when Dirk faked Kobe out in the post, showing the fadeaway before stepping through for a layup. Both guys laughed all the way back down the floor. Personally, it was a moment I’ll remember for a while.

Nowitzki Fakes Kobe

Dirk Nowitzki ducks under Kobe Bryant for the smooth layup.

The duo will face off for the 50th and final time tonight at 9:30 p.m. Central. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more talented scorers who came up the ranks in the 1990s, and it would be even more difficult to find a pair of intense competitors. These guys understand the situation.

There would be no more perfect send-off for Bryant in his final game against the Mavericks than to have another terrific game against the team. Meanwhile, there’s no better way for Nowitzki to pay homage to one of his favorite players ever than to have another excellent performance against him. Either way, while we might not get another Dirk and Kobe showdown, the two have already spoiled us with enough classics over the years.

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