By Dwain Price
PHOENIX — Dirk Nowitzki made his much-anticipated 2018-’19 debut Thursday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. But not even his presence could prevent the Dallas Mavericks from getting burnt by the Phoenix Suns for the second time this season.
In his first game since undergoing left ankle surgery on Apr. 5, Nowitzki only played six first-half minutes and finished with two points and one rebound. Meanwhile, the Mavs suffered through a miserable night where they committed 23 turnovers and missed 28 shots from 3-point land en route to surprisingly falling to the Suns, 99-89.
“Generally, I thought our effort was good,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We held them under 100.
“We just had a rough night offensively. We turned it over too much and their offensive rebounding hurt us.”
The loss snapped the Mavs’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 15-12 overall, including a mere 2-10 on the road. Meanwhile, the Mavs were champion the return of Nowitzki, who, with the game against the Suns, became the first player in NBA history to play 21 seasons with the same franchise.
Nowitzki began this season tied with former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant in that exclusive category, but now the 7-footer from Germany stands alone.
Against the Suns, Nowitzki entered the game for the only time with 3:27 remaining in the first quarter and left for good with 9:17 to go in the second quarter. And it was at the 2:41 mark of the first quarter when Nowitzki rose up and took his first shot of the season, and banked it in from 15 feet on the right side that gave the Mavs a brief 21-20 lead.
“I had the ball in the post and just faced up and I said it’s now or never, and I’m glad I was able to make it,” said Nowitzki, who later missed a 3-point shot. “But honestly I’m a little more mad at the three.
“I had a great look there, and that was the one I wanted to make.”
The plan all along was for Nowitzki to only play in the first half, which ended with the Suns nursing a 50-40 lead after Mikal Bridges banked in an improbable halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
Although the Suns entered and left the game with the NBA’s worst record, they sure didn’t play like it. In breaking a 10-game losing streak, Phoenix built a 15-point lead late in the third quarter, and the Mavs didn’t get closer than seven points thereafter.
Overall, this is just the fifth win of the season for the Suns. And two of those victories were over the Mavs, who they also beat on opening night in Phoenix.
“I thought we attacked the paint a lot better in the second half,” Carlisle said. “But any time we’d creep close there would be an untimely thing for us and a timely thing for them that would tilt it back in their favor.
“In the NBA today it doesn’t matter what records are or anything else. If you go bad in a couple of key categories — statistical categories — you’re going to have trouble winning on the road.”
The game also marked the return of point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who missed the previous three games with a sprained right wrist. Smith finished with four points, eight rebounds and five turnovers, and was 2-of-6 from the field.
“I didn’t have a good game,” Smith said. “You miss a couple of games in the NBA against the best players in the world you know you’ve got to knock some rust off.
“My main thing was to come out and play as hard as possible. I struggled tonight, so it happens. You charge it to the game and go on to the next one.”
Harrison Barnes led the Mavs with 15 points, DeAndre Jordan collected 14 points and 16 rebounds, Luka Doncic had 13 points, five rebounds and six assists, Jalen Brunson scored 13 and Wesley Matthews added 11.
The Mavs only shot 39.7 percent from the field and were also just 5-of-33 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We’re not going to win playing the way that we did today,’ Barnes said. “Obviously you have to tip your hat to them –they played hard. But there’s a lot of things that we didn’t do.”
At least the Mavs got Nowitzki back in the fold, although he is under a minutes restriction. o ow did he do in his first game?
“I’m Ok,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously the wind wasn’t great. There was a stretch where I went back-and-forth a couple of times, then I fell over like a tree at some point because I was so tired.
“But it was good to be out there, and I’m sure my wind is going to get better as we go.”
NOTES: Guard J. J. Barea missed Thursday’s game with a sprained left ankle. “We don’t think it’s serious,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’re hoping it’s a day-to-day thing. He had a good day (Thursday)today. . .We’ll see where things are on Sunday.”. . The Mavs host the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Mavs have won 11 straight home games. . .On Dirk Nowitzki’s first game Thursday, coach Rick Carlisle said: “All things considered, he did fine, he did well. This s a challenging situation for Dirk, because coming back and getting re-acclimated mid-stream with no real live practice time to speak of, he’s been busting his butt and I respect the hell out of him for what he’s done to get himself back on the floor.”. .The Mavs won at home n Wednesday against Atlanta. So they were playing the Suns on the second leg of a back-to-back. “It certainly makes it harder,” Carlisle said. “But we don’t make excuses.”. .Carlisle said the 23 turnovers the Mavs committed were a huge factor in the game’s outcome. “That along with giving up (12) offensive rebounds,” Carlisle said. “At the end of the day the NBA is still a possession game. So losing control of that many possessions — many of them catastropical — makes it hard.”