Dirk Nowitzki has been coming to Madison Square Garden for about two decades, scoring better there than at any road arena.
If this was the last visit, he ended with a good one.
Nowitzki scored a season-high 14 points, Luka Doncic warmed up after an airball on his first shot in the arena to score 16, and the Dallas Mavericks routed the New York Knicks 114-90 on Wednesday night.
Dennis Smith Jr. had his second career triple-double, and Harrison Barnes led the Mavericks with 19 points, but most of the focus was on the team’s star rookie and 21-year veteran, who may be in his final season.
“I always enjoyed playing here,” Nowitzki said. “If it was my last time it was definitely one of my most favorite places to play.”
The 19-year-old Doncic also grabbed eight rebounds and made two 3-pointers, both in the second half after the game was long secured.
“It was great. For sure we needed that win. We were struggling on the road,” Doncic said. “It was great to play here and I’m looking forward to playing a lot of years here.”
He shot airballs on two of his first four attempts and wasn’t nearly as good as in his previous game, when he scored a season-high 35 points Sunday against Toronto, becoming the first teenager in NBA history with multiple triple-doubles.
Then again, he didn’t need to do nearly as much against the team with the NBA’s worst record. The Knicks (10-40) lost their 11th in a row, though at least gave home fans something to cheer by giving Enes Kanter some playing time.
They also cheered the 40-year-old Nowitzki when he walked toward the table to check in late in the first quarter, and stood and cheered when he got into the game. Nowitzki made his first three shots for nine points in seven minutes, then didn’t come back on again until the fourth quarter, when he nailed another 3.
He was bummed in Boston, when he couldn’t reward the fans with a basket as they desperately cheered for him to knock one in during the final minutes. But after a solid warmup, he felt good about his chances at MSG, where he came in averaging 24.9 points in 17 games, his highest average in a road arena.
“I knew if I get a chance I was going to step into some,” Nowitzki said.
Kevin Knox scored 17 points and Trey Burke had 16 for the Knicks, while Kanter had five points in nine minutes.
Fans began chanting “We want Kanter! We want Kanter!” in the third quarter. He waved from the bench and clapped along, then was actually inserted into the game a few minutes later, ending the former starting center’s streak of four straight games where he didn’t play.
“He just yelled out my name and I was like ‘Yo, really?'” Kanter said, referring to coach David Fizdale. “I even looked around like, is he serious? And then I got up and the fans starting clapping and I thought this is really happening.”
He kissed the Knicks logo at center court when he walked onto the floor.
Kanter’s first shot was an airball before he got on the board with a dunk.
Mavericks: Smith finished with 13 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. … Wesley Matthews scored 17 points.
Knicks: The Knicks finished 1-12 in January. They were 2-12 in December. … Tim Hardaway Jr. was 2 for 11 for six points.
Nowitzki will be the honorary coach of the World team in the Rising Stars Challenge, adding to his busy All-Star weekend in Charlotte in which he will also take part in the 3-point contest. Asked about playing for Nowitzki, Doncic joked that he was going to try to change teams.
“I told him he’s got to play hard or I’m going to sub him out,” Nowitzki said. “I’m going to be tough on him. I’m going to teach him a lesson.”
Fizdale has made it clear he’s focused on playing young big men such as Noah Vonleh and rookie Mitchell Robinson, wasn’t happy with them Wednesday so turned back to Kanter.
“I didn’t feel the bigs were playing at the level that I want them to play at. I don’t want those minutes to feel like entitlement,” Fizdale said. “Like I’ve told Enes, any chance I could get to squeeze you in there within the framework of what we’re trying to do with the young guys, I’m going to do it. I want to be upfront and stick with that.”
Mavericks: Visit Detroit on Thursday.
Knicks: Host Boston on Friday.
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