Farewell, Black Mamba

Unless I know something you — and maybe even Kobe Bryant — don’t, this title is a little presumptuous. It’s entirely possible Bryant will stick around past this season and play another game in Dallas, or that maybe the two teams face off in a hotly contested best-of-seven match in the Western Conference Finals later this very season. One of those scenarios is a lot more likely than the other, but the latest Dirk Nowitzki-Kobe Bryant matchup had the feel of a goodbye, and if so, there’s no better way to express my feelings than my possibly incorrect title.

Bryant had his jumper going a little better this time, shooting 7-for-15 from the field and 3-for-8 from three-point range, but the end results were the same: the Mavericks came out on top and earned the win. Unlike last time, Nowitzki was anything but his best, but since he’s coming off a rousing performance against the Clippers on Wednesday where he could do no wrong, a step back was to be expected.

The two legends paid homage to each other during and after the game, laughing about the play where Nowitzki schooled Bryant in up-and-under fashion near the basket. Bryant’s remarks about the play after the game were priceless: “It was just two old guys having fun. I was trying to catch him before he got too high because he’s too damn tall.” Nowitzki tipped his German cap to Bryant in his own postgame comments, saying it’s always good to see Kobe, and that he (Bryant) is a legend. Heart-warming back-and-forth, guys, and I’m not being sarcastic in the slightest when I write that.

Initially, it really looked like vintage Kobe was going to show up at American Airlines Center Friday night, as the 37-year-old drained his first four field goal attempts and then split on his next four, but he slowed down the rest of the way, finishing just 1-for-8 after that point. If this really is the last game Kobe will ever play in Dallas, I can’t help but wish he’d gotten 40 like he initially looked capable of doing — in a losing effort of course.

Overall, this was a sloppy game where both teams combined to commit a whopping 35 turnovers and shoot 35 percent from the field. Apart from a great Dallas run in the first quarter where everything seemed to be working for a few minutes, not much went right for either side. Fortunately for the Mavs, they did fewer bad things than the Lakers did in the process of climbing back over the .500 mark at 5-4.

After being the heroes on Wednesday, Wes Matthews and Nowitzki were practically silent all night, but Zaza Pachulia was there to pick them up with his best performance as a Maverick so far. The team’s new starting center shot 5-for-7 from the field and 8-for-11 from the charity stripe to score 18 points, and he also managed to grab 16 rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. These kinds of performances are exactly why Zaza has to be quickly becoming a fan favorite in Dallas. As far as consolation prizes go, this is turning out to be a pretty good one. I loved that he thanked his teammates for missing a few shots to give him an opportunity to hit the offensive glass; that tells me that despite his frequently blank expression, there’s a little wit somewhere within that 275-pound body. His 16-footer over Roy Hibbert with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter was particularly huge, as it turned the game back into a two-possession affair after the Lakers had started to close in.

Elsewhere, Dwight Powell continued his surge, notching a double-double of his own in scoring 10 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. He also finished at +18 for the game, higher than any player except Devin Harris. Deron Williams wasn’t great from the field, but his 13 points and 7 assists certainly counts as a solid contribution.

After all the emotion of the game against the Clippers, this one didn’t have quite the same feel, but it’s a win. The Mavericks will now head to Houston and try to reach a season-high two games over .500 against the Rockets, a matchup I’m quite looking forward to. I’ve yet to experience the famed Mavericks-Rockets rivalry firsthand, and I’ll be ready to fling insults at those space-loving freaks near the gulf. It’s a Texas showdown at its finest, and I suppose that means I should probably watch the festivities with a brisket taco in one hand and a six-shooter in the other.

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