We understand we still got about 20 games left (17 to be exact). For me, that’s like a college regular season. The season’s not over. We’ve got to continue to play like we’re playing for something, and that’s for pride. —Trey Burke
SALT LAKE CITY — Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has said multiple times in recent interviews that he wants his young team to watch and match how teams in playoff races battle down the stretch of the regular season.
The intensity gets ratcheted up. Savvy veterans become even more focused and fierce. The level of play is often elevated.
Dirk Nowitzki goes bonkers.
Oh yeah, that.
The Jazz might’ve been fine Wednesday night had the latter not happened in their 108-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at EnergySolutions Arena.
Although Utah played an overall tough game, dominating Dallas inside and getting some spunky efforts from a couple of young guys, Nowitzki’s 31-point night was just too much for the Jazz to overcome.
“Our guys played with some real emotion. They knew the importance of the game,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “But Dirk was great from start to finish.”
The Mavs’ coach aptly described the 35-year-old’s shooting performance — 12 for 14 from the field and 4 of 4 from 3-point range — as being “ridiculous” on a night he took sole possession of the No. 12 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
As a team, Dallas shot ridiculously well, hitting 53.2 percent from the field and drilling 13 of 21 from 3-point range.
The result: Utah dropped to a Western Conference-worst 22-43, while Dallas held its No. 8 spot in the postseason.
Even with his big night, Nowitzki wasn’t the only Mav veteran to put on an impressive display for the Jazz youngsters when this game was still up for grabs.
The key sequence came with just less than four minutes remaining when Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks missed an open 3-pointer on one end and Dallas guard Monta Ellis drilled a deep shot on the ensuing possession.
Burks’ shot could’ve given the Jazz a one-point lead.
Ellis’ make did increase the Mavericks’ advantage to 98-93.
“It’s deflating,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “The ball just didn’t go our way.”
He grinned while responding to a question about Burks’ miss as his teammate was getting dressed a few feet away within earshot.
“Alec had a wide-open shot that he usually makes,” Burke continued. “He knows he needs to make that the next time. We’ve just got to learn from it and move forward.”
Added Burks: "That's just the game of basketball."
Dallas controlled the game from there, eventually taking its biggest lead at 106-96 when Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer with 1:54 remaining, landed on his backside in front of the Jazz bench, and barked at the refs for a foul call.
By that time, it didn’t matter.
Though the Jazz have played fairly well the past two outings, even outscoring Dallas 56-32 in the paint, they’ve now dropped two straight at home to teams currently holding the final playoff spots in the East (Atlanta) and West (Dallas).
“I thought there were some good things we did in the game. We lost to a team that is fighting for a playoff spot,” Corbin said. “They (Mavs) didn’t play their best game last night (a 108-85 defeat in Golden State) and these guys were ready to show what I thought, down the stretch especially, how you close games out.”
That closing-out process Wednesday included a 13-2 Dallas spurt between the 4:50 mark when Derrick Favors completed a three-point play and the 1:54 point when Nowitzki drained his final bomb.
That Mavs run included seven points from Ellis, who had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to help Dallas improve to 39-27.
Burke led Utah with 20 points, his second consecutive game hitting that scoring threshold. He also had six assists.
“We understand we still got about 20 games left (17 to be exact). For me, that’s like a college regular season. The season’s not over,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to play like we’re playing for something, and that’s for pride.”
Backup center Enes Kanter had his 15th double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Favors added 15 points, and Burks finished with 13 points and a career-high eight assists.
All good numbers.
None as good as Nowitzki’s.
"(Dirk's) one of the best players in the world for a reason," Burks said, "and he showed that tonight."
“We did what we could to try to contain Dirk,” Burke said. “He was 12 of 14. You’ve just got to take your hat off for him when a guy has a night like that.”