SALT LAKE CITY – In the city where he famously clinched his first playoff series some 18 years ago, Dirk Nowitzki turned back the clock Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 18,306 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The greatest player in Mavs history made his first start of the season and responded with a season-high 15 points in a season-high 25 minutes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the Utah Jazz outscored the Mavs by 13 in the second half and left the arena with a 125-109 victory.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Mavs, who dipped to 26-33 headed into Monday’s 9:30 p.m. game at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nowitzki started the game because Maxi Kleber remained at his Utah hotel room with an illness. Plus, the Mavs were also without rookie Luka Doncic for the second straight game as he continues to nurse his sore right ankle.
But considering the Mavs were on the second end of a back-to-back after losing at home on Friday to Denver – Utah also lost at Oklahoma City in double overtime on Friday — Nowitzki’s performance was one of the highlights of this game for Dallas.
“I felt OK,” said Nowitzki, who was 6-of-14 from the field. “I was a little tired (Friday), I think, coming out of the (All-Star) break.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t good on defense on stretches. Stretches on offense obviously, without Luka in there, too, we go through dry spells. So overall, just not good enough.”
Coach Rick Carlisle applauded the effort by Nowitzki, who was 3-of-9 from 3-point range.
“With Kleber out, (Nowitzki) starting made sense,” Carlisle said. “When you get into the flow of the game early, even if you’re not getting a lot of shots, it helps facilitates and you have a little more feel to the game.
“Our guys did a good job of finding him and he banged in some shots, which is great to see.”
After Nowitzki nailed two baskets – the latter being a 3-pointer – the Mavs were only down 86-83 with 10:42 left in the game. From there, the Jazz went on a 17-4 run, highlighted by a trio of 3-pointers by Joe Ingles, to assume a 103-87 lead with 6:34 remaining in the game.
“The boards were an issue again, so we’ve got to keep talking about that and working on it,” said Carlisle, after his team lost the rebounding battle, 53-42. “We’re down a little bit size-wise with Kleber out, and he’s one of our better rebounders.”
The Mavs trailed 31-25 after the first quarter, 61-58 at the half and 86-78 after the third quarter. Dallas was able to stay close in part because it committed a franchise-low three turnovers.
“I thought the low turnover number was the highlight of the game,” Carlisle said. “We had been on a stretch of turning it over really at a historically high rate since I’ve been around here.
“Utah is a team with (Ricky) Rubio out there and Ingles and some of these other guys that steals the ball, that was a really good job (protecting the basketball). But we needed to do better on the boards, we needed to get some more stops.”
Besides Nowitzki, the Mavs got 21 points from Tim Hardaway Jr, 20 from Trey Burke, 13 apiece from Jalen Brunson and Justin Jackson, and 12 points, six rebounds and five assists from Dwight Powell. Burke was particularly pleased with his performance since the Jazz made him the ninth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and he spent three seasons with their organization.
“I just wanted to come in and bring energy to the game on both ends of the court and be that spark off the bench,” said Burke, who was 8-of-15 from the field in 23 minutes. “I’m trying to adjust on the fly on both ends of the court, not just offensively.”
For Nowitzki, who was the ringleader for the Mavs when they battled back from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Jazz 3-2 in a five-game playoff series in 2001, getting his legs back under him at this juncture of the season has been a bonus.
“It’s a little easier to get in the game when you start and you have a rhythm right away,” Nowitzki said. “It’s a lot easier than coming off the bench.
“But whatever it is, until the end of the season I’m obviously willing to do and all of it will be fun.”
NOTES: Utah Jazz TV color analyst Ron Boone has been nominated by the veterans committee in the direct-elect category for the 2019 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1968, Boone was drafted by the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA and the Phoenix Suns of the NBA. He chose the Chaparrals, where he played two seasons and averaged 18.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists as a rookie. “It’s good to be nominated whether you make it or not,” Boone said prior to Saturday’s Dallas Mavericks-Utah Jazz game. “My name has been on the list before, but I’ve never been nominated until this year. If it happens it happens. I’ll be glad.” Known as an iron man, Boone, 72, played in all 1,041 games of his ABA/NBA career and played at least 20 minutes in each game. It was the longest such streak that was eventually broken by former Mavs forward A.C. Green. Boone played 662 games in the ABA and 379 games in the NBA. “I’m happy to be nominated,” said Boone, who finished his career with the Jazz in 1980-’81 season. “I left a mark somewhere in basketball.” Boone was a four-time ABA All-Star who led the Utah Stars to the 1971 ABA title and also made the ABA All-Rookie First Team while with the Chaparrals. . .It’s been a challenge for the Mavs trying to incorporate four new starters into the starting lineup after two trades approximately three weeks ago that sent starters Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews packing. But the Mavs have gradually made the new lineup work. “The NBA is probably the greatest pro sports league in the world for preparation,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s so many games, and they come quickly and there’s a lot of scouting information and it’s got to be scaled down into its simplest form. When you make a major trade and you get five new players, you at some level will re-invent your team at least a little bit. We’ve sort of re-tooled a little bit based on this group. And the last two-and-a-half weeks scaled down some things and got our defensive system in. The personnel is quite different, so there are some different challenges. But we have good guys that go hard and they’re pros, so that’s a great starting point.”. .Carlisle discussed how nice it’s been to witness the many tributes and standing ovations Dirk Nowitzki has received throughout this season. “It’s so well-deserved and it’s just been great to see,” Carlisle said. “Again, we don’t know if this is his last year. I’m sure he’ll talk about it once it’s over with. But it’s been an amazing 21 years. We have 24 games left in this year, and then who knows how much longer after that. Whatever the case, it’ll go by quickly, so I’ll cherish every moment that he’s wearing the uniform.” Nowitzki scored a season-high 15 points against the Jazz in 25 minutes. His previous high was 14 points scored in just 12 minutes during a Jan. 20 game against the New York Knicks. Asked what it was like to make his first start of the season in Saturday’s game, Nowitzki said: “That’s what I’ve been doing for two decades. It wasn’t that new.”