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Dirk Nowitzki turns back the clock in potential last game against Utah Jazz

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Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors is called for a foul while rebounding against Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors is called for a foul while rebounding against Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

Ravell Call

SALT LAKE CITY — By the spring of 2001, the Dallas Mavericks had missed the playoffs for 10 straight years before they finally broke through to win 53 games in the 2000-2001 campaign, led by third-year pro Dirk Nowitzki. Their 53-win mark tied them with the Utah Jazz, who won the tiebreaker, and the teams met in the postseason’s first round, with the Jazz getting the Western Conference’s fourth seed and home-court advantage.

The veteran Utah team quickly asserted itself, winning the first two games of the series, and was in position for the sweep (the first round was best-of-five then). But Nowitzki scored 33 points in each of the next two contests as the upstart Dallas squad evened things, setting up the decisive Game 5 in Salt Lake City.

The Jazz took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter but squandered it in the first few minutes of the frame, and Calvin Booth scored with 9.6 seconds left to give the Mavericks the 84-83 lead. Utah had two shots to win the game, but a missed Karl Malone jumper at the buzzer gave Dallas the victory.

Watching him throughout the course of his career, you feel you’ve been treated. – Quin Snyder on Dirk Nowitzki

The Mavericks lost the next round 4-1 to the San Antonio Spurs, but those playoffs started a run of 12 straight years they made the postseason, which included two trips to the NBA Finals and a championship in 2011.

They were led in scoring by Nowitzki each year.

The 7-footer from Germany has said this could be his last season, although he’ll make a firm decision this summer. That means Saturday night’s contest between Utah and Dallas at Vivint Arena could have been his final game in Salt Lake City.

“I remember when Malone missed that last shot, I was running around full court like we won the championship. That was a first-round series,” Nowitzki recalled Saturday. “That was the start for us of a great decade of winning 50 games-plus and having some great teams and having a lot of fun winning and competing.”

Along the way, Nowitzki revolutionized basketball as a big man who could score not only near the basket, but from midrange, the free-throw line and from behind the 3-point line. Even though there are now more big men who can do those things than there were when the 40-year-old entered the NBA, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Saturday, “There still isn’t anyone like him.”

“It’s hard to do (his career) justice adequately,” Snyder said. “Watching him throughout the course of his career, you feel you’ve been treated.”

Utah forward Jae Crowder began his career with the Mavericks in 2012 and played two years alongside Nowitzki. While Crowder noted Nowitzki’s abilities as a player, he said the biggest thing he learned from observing the surefire future Hall of Famer was how to conduct himself.

“Obviously, he’s a great jump shooter and he has honed his craft very well, but he was very accountable each and every day, and I took that from him,” Crowder said. “As a young kid coming into the league, I needed that, just to see how to be a professional, how to show up to a game, how to focus for a game, how to focus for a playoff game. I took all the stuff he did off the court more so than on the court, in a way, just him as a person and how he carries himself. He’s a true professional.”

Nowitzki has been hobbled by injury this season, but on Saturday night he gave some reminders of what made him so good for so long. After signing autographs for a crowd of youngsters pregame and then getting a warm reception as he was announced as a starter for the first time this year, he scored a season-high 15 points in 25 minutes, the most time he’s logged in a game this season as Dallas is shorthanded in the frontcourt.

“It’s what I’ve been doing for two decades, so it wasn’t that new,” he said to laughter of making the start. “It’s a little easier to get in the game when you start and you have a rhythm right away. It’s a lot easier than coming off the bench, but whatever it is until the end of the season, obviously, is what I’ll do."