Dirk Nowitzki wasn't exactly apologizing for his flagrant foul that sent Andrei Kirilenko to the hospital on Monday night during Utah's 116-110 win at EnergySolutions Arena. But the Dallas Mavericks star genuinely seemed to feel bad about it.
Nowitzki freely admitted his hard foul in the first quarter on Kirilenko was on purpose. He was, after all, trying to avoid giving up an easy basket. He just didn't mean for it to be as damaging as it ended up being.
"It was a tough situation," said Nowitzki. "He made a pump-fake near the hoop. I left my feet. I didn't want to give the 'and-one', so I kind of tried to grab him. Unfortunately, I grabbed him around the neck. Things went so fast. I didn't mean to grab the neck. I was just trying to hold him so he doesn't score."
Kirilenko crashed to the floor, landing flat on his back. He stayed on the hardwood for a couple of minutes before getting up, hitting a pair of free throws and then gingerly walking, with the help of the Jazz's medical staff, off the court. Later he was taken to the hospital for X-rays on his injured right hip.
Meanwhile, Nowitzki, the defending NBA Most Valuable Player, suddenly became enemy No. 1. Jazz fans booed him every time he touched the ball the remainder of the night.
"I feel bad," said Nowitzki of the hard foul. "But these things happen. Hopefully he'll be O.K."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan admitted he turned away and didn't see the incident clearly. But he's willing to give Nowtizki the benefit of the doubt.
"I really didn't think it was something that flagrant," said Sloan. "I know it may have looked that way, but I don't think Nowitzki is that kind of guy. It's part of basketball."
Soon after the hard foul, Nowitzki came out of the game and stayed on the bench the rest of the first quarter and into the second.
"I had a horrible start," said Nowitzki. "I gave up a couple of rebounds and didn't really get into the game. (Getting taken out) had nothing to do with the foul."
Nowitzki had eight points and just two rebounds in the first two quarters, but was better in the second half when the Mavericks rallied from a double-digit deficit to take a fourth quarter lead. He finished with 23 points and seven boards in yet another frustrating Dallas loss.
The Mavericks are just 4-4 since All-Star point guard Jason Kidd came over to them in a trade from New Jersey. But all four losses have come on the road to top Western Conference opponents. They've dropped close games at New Orleans, San Antonio and Los Angeles against the Lakers before Monday's loss to the Jazz.
"We've been going against the best teams on the road and we've played ourselves into a lot of games," said Kidd. "We just haven't been able to get over the hump at the end."
Dallas coach Avery Johnson liked the way his team battled back after spotting the Jazz a 21-point lead in the first half.
"They could've packed it in early, but we found a way to get back into the game and take the lead," said Johnson. "But again, we're just not able to close games like we should."
Dallas, owner of the best regular season record in the NBA a year ago, is currently just the 7th seed in the West with a 39-22 mark. That doesn't seem to concern the Mavs coach, though."We're not there yet," said Johnson. "But, boy, once we get there, I think the sky's the limit."