If you're 37, you're not supposed to be able to drop 40 points in an NBA game. Sure, Michael Jordan did it eight times, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (four times) and Karl Malone (twice) were able to pull it off, but no one else in NBA history had. Until Dirk Nowitzki went off against the Portland Trail Blazers, that is.
Nowitzki had 40 points and eight rebounds in a vintage performance as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Blazers 132-120 in overtime to tighten the playoff standings in the West on Sunday. The win moved the Mavericks to 35-35 -- which would put them eighth in the West, tied with the Rockets and a half-game back of the 36-35 Blazers in sixth, if the season ended Sunday.
The Blazers used a furious fourth quarter to send the game to overtime, but couldn't hang with Nowitzki and the red-hot Mavericks in the extra period. Damian Lillard had 26 points and eight assists in the loss.
It was a must-win game for the Mavericks, who had lost seven of their last eight -- and they delivered. Not only was Nowitzki spectacular, Deron Williams had 31 points and 16 assists and Salah Mejri had 13 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.
The Mavericks coughed up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, but caught fire in overtime. Behind Williams and Nowitzki, they scored the first 11 points of overtime to put the Blazers away. Nowitzki sealed the run with a transition three to put an emphatic exclamation on his 40-point night and the win.
Nowitzki was unstoppable all night. He shot 16-of-26 from the field and was having his way against a porous Blazers defense. Nowitzki isn't showing any signs of slowing, either. He scored 20 or more points for the eighth straight game against the Blazers, the first time he'd done that since 2011, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN. It hasn't coincided with a slew of wins for the Mavericks, but he made a huge difference to lead the Mavericks offense on Sunday.
The Mavericks shot 55.1 percent from the field as a team and 60 percent from deep. Portland was only able to stay in the game because they grabbed 22 offensive boards.
Williams scored 17 points in the fourth and overtime, hitting big buckets down the stretch to keep the Mavericks from blowing a fourth-quarter lead and running the offense in the extra frame. He's been playing well in the clutch all season, shooting 47 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from deep in crunch time, via Basketball Reference.
The classic performances from Nowitzki and Williams couldn't have come at a better time for the Mavericks -- they're going to need the old guard to continue playing well if they're going to avoid the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
2 other things we learned
The Utah Jazz are doing their best to crash the playoff party
While the Mavericks, Rockets and Blazers fight for the sixth playoff spot in the West, the Jazz are sitting in the ninth spot at 34-36, a game behind the Mavericks and Rockets. Gordon Hayward had 18 points and Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 14 rebounds as the Jazz beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 94-85, for their fifth win in six games. The defense has been superb in that stretch, not giving up more than 99 points in any game. The Jazz have 12 games remaining, and the defense must carry them if they're going to sneak into the playoffs. They're getting hot at the right time -- they'll get the Rockets on Wednesday with a chance to chip away at Houston's lead.
The New Orleans Pelicans aren't tanking correctly
The Pelicans announced that Anthony Davis would miss the rest of the season due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder and an upcoming left knee surgery on Sunday. Essentially out of the playoff race already, losses would only help the Pelicans' draft spot in this summer's NBA Draft. But the Pelicans actually won on Sunday, outplaying a lackluster Los Angeles Clippers squad in a 109-105 win. Jrue Holiday had 22 points and eight assists in the win and Omer Asik added 15 points and 14 rebounds. Chris Paul had 24 points and 13 assists, but the Clippers couldn't pick up a win even with a furious rally in the final two minutes that almost erased a double-digit deficit. In the end, it was an ugly loss for the Clippers, who are 3-6 in their last nine games. They're trending in the wrong direction as the season comes closer and closer to an end.
Play of the night
Rudy Gobert isn't one to shy away from an opportunity to block a shot. Unless Jabari Parker is flying through the lane at full speed. Gobert made the right call on this one, avoiding a posterizing for the ages had he attempted to stuff Parker on this slam.