SALT LAKE CITY — As much as Jazz fans have loved to hate Dirk Nowitzki over the years, the Beehive State will always have a special spot in the German's heart.
That was made a certainty Tuesday when Nowitzki reached a significant milestone, surpassing Oscar Robertson to move into the No. 10 spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"Like I always say, that stuff will mean more to me once my career is over," Nowitzki said after leading Dallas to a 95-83 win over Utah. "But this is a sweet one. Top 10 is definitely unbelievable."
Interesting that his big moment happened in the building where he's had some history — from getting into a little tiff with Earl Watson a couple of seasons ago, to hard fouls on Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring, to his infamous opinion about the Beehive State in the playoffs in 2001.
During Nowitzki's first postseason experience 13 years ago, the then second-year player rankled Jazz fans after he'd seen a sign in the Delta Center early in that series that said, "Germany is a bad city." He also recalls getting booed even during warm-ups.
"We got off on the wrong foot," Nowitzki told reporters after Tuesday's shootaround at EnergySolutions Arena.
Jazz fans really felt like he stomped on their feet with his response to a cameraman at the airport who asked why the Mavericks traveled back to Dallas between consecutive games in Utah during the series.
“I said, 'Well, Utah is a bad city,' meaning it’s the playoffs and we shouldn’t spend too much time there. It’s hostile,” Nowitzki said Tuesday. "I meant going home sleeping in my own bed is never bad. I come back here and they blew the whole thing up. They were talking about it on the TV that night already. I mean, they were trying to call my hotel room. It was awesome."
Adding elimination to insult, the Mavericks rallied out of a 2-0 hole to oust John Stockton and Karl Malone out of the first round.
Thirteen years later, Nowitzki scored 21 points to give him 26,714 during his 16-year career. Big O previously held the 10th spot with 26,710 points. Now the 7-footer is setting his sights on ninth-place Hakeem Olajuwon, who finished his illustrious career with 26,946 points.
"This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I've truly been in awe of an accomplishment," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Top 10 all-time scorers is an unbelievable accomplishment because it's a level of excellence that's beyond belief. Then it's being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency.
"(It's) one of the really unique accomplishments, and he's going to keep eating up more people (on the list). He's got a long way to go."
By the way, the Mavs star has certainly softened his stance on Salt Lake City over the years.
“Actually, I like the city. I don't mind it,” Nowitzki told Dallas reporters with a smile. “It’s nice with the mountains. I don’t mind being here.”
BIG NIGHT: Not only did Jeremy Evans get the opportunity to display some of his paintings on the arena concourse, but the artist also played more than 30 minutes for just the second time this season Tuesday.
Evans logged 32 minutes, second only to his 38-minute outing against Portland on Dec. 9. The 6-foot-9 forward grabbed 11 rebounds and scored six points in his extended time. The reserve has averaged 17.8 minutes in 62 appearances during his fourth season.
“Everybody played pretty hard,” Jazz center Enes Kanter said after the loss. “I especially want to talk about Jeremy coming off the bench and playing those minutes and giving his best. I think he did a really good job and played one of his best games.”
HARD LESSONS: It was a learning experience for Evans, who said he tried to help others and got burned by Nowitzki on multiple occasions. Coaches reminded him to stick with one of the greatest scorers in the game.
“I feel like I have a long ways to go and made a couple mistakes,” Evans said. “I feel like those mistakes were huge down the stretch. Three, six, 10 points there and we still would have been in the game.”
BACK AT IT: The Jazz did not practice Wednesday but will return to Zions Bank Basketball Center on Thursday to prepare for Friday’s showdown with Portland.
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