Dirk Nowitzki scored 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting Sunday, and also had three blocks

It’s not as though Nowitzki has suddenly found the fountain of youth and turned back into the dominant player he was during his prime. He’ll never be that guy again. It’s simply not realistic to ask a dude that old to carry an offense and consistently create his own shots, which is why Harrison Barnes has taken ownership of all the old iso plays that coach Rick Carlisle designed for Dirk back in the day.

But a healthy Nowitzki can still be an offensive force and perhaps help the Mavs compete for the West’s final playoff spot, considering the sub-.500 competition for that spot. After all, Nowitzki is coming off one of the most prolific, efficient scoring seasons ever for a player his age. Last season, he joined all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in NBA history to average at least 18 points with a 50-plus eFG% at age 37 or older.

The Mavs have legitimate reason to believe Nowitzki has worked his way back into that form.

“I think he’s back to enjoying it,” said guard J.J. Barea, who also had a performance that provided encouraging signs he’s getting back to being himself after dealing with a nagging injury, scoring 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting in 17 minutes off the bench. “He’s back to competing out there. We cannot use him like we used to use him, but every once in awhile, we definitely rely on him. He’s doing good. He’s feeling good.

“When he starts talking a lot in the locker room, when he starts messing around a lot, when he starts hitting his 3s, I know he’s in his game. That’s a great feeling for us.”

“I still feel like I’ve got some ways to improve,” Nowitzki said. “I feel sometimes a little sluggish on certain moves, on certain push-offs, getting from one spot to another, especially when there’s a turnover, the quick reaction play where somebody’s coming down the middle. I feel like there’s still a way to improve, but my stand-still shot is there. Some of the post moves are there. I’ve just got to keep on working on days off to get better.”

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