DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki wasn't about to admit anything.
According to him, the 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks he had in leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 121-99 victory Wednesday night were all part of just another night at the office -- even if they came against the Golden State Warriors, his team's nemesis and the club that's most to blame for people saying he didn't deserve to be MVP last season.
So for the real answer, listen to what his teammates said after seeing the big German carry them to their most lopsided victory of the season.
"He exorcised some of his demons," Jerry Stackhouse said. "It's something that needed to be done."
"He just refused to allow them to double-team him," added Jason Terry. "This was definitely his best game of the year. I liked everything he did."
Following a game plan drawn up by Golden State coach Don Nelson, the mastermind behind Nowitzki's ascent in the NBA, the Warriors chopped Nowitzki and the Mavericks down in last year's playoffs, knocking out the eventual MVP and a 67-win team in the first round of the playoffs.
Other teams have cribbed Golden State's strategy to try neutralizing Nowitzki this season. While some teams have made it work, Nowitzki wasn't about to let the Warriors pull it off again.
Nowitzki settled in closer to the basket than usual, then took open jumpers or charged the rim whenever he sensed single coverage and passing whenever a second defender came at him. He also decided what he wanted to do much quicker than usual. On defense, Nowitzki was so active that he had two blocks on one possession.
"I think Dirk just played his game, like the MVP," said Stephen Jackson, who along with Baron Davis led Golden State's playoff upset. "I thought he played great. I think if I could put my hand on one thing it was that he was more patient on the block. I think he just stayed under control. He definitely carried them tonight."
Warriors forward Al Harrington noticed, too.
"Dirk was aggressive. He wasn't passive," said Harrington, who scored 21 points. "He was determined to put his team on his back and play at an MVP level."
Jackson and Davis didn't, starting a combined 2-for-14. While Jackson finished with 25 points, Davis never recovered, scoring just 10 points on 2-for-14 shooting. He missed his first five shots, made a 3-pointer, then missed his next three, including a long 3 that pounded into the backboard about a ball's width wide of the rim. He even missed his first two free throws.
The Mavericks grabbed control early and never let up, especially not when Golden State finished the third quarter trailing by only four.
Dallas scored the first 11 points of the final period and broke things open with a 19-4 run. The emotion on Nowitzki's face throughout that surge showed how much this game meant to him, even if he denied afterward that he was trying to bury the memories of last spring.
"I don't believe in all that stuff," he said. "I had a bad series, I didn't shoot well, so to me that's behind me. I don't really think about that much any more."
OK, then, how about trying to prove he can handle the way Golden State covers him?
"It's not only Golden State," he said. "A lot of teams crowd me now. Whenever I spin, they come from my blind side. It's nothing new any more. I've just got to be strong, kick it out if the double team is there and pick my spots to be aggressive."
Terry said Nowitzki made it look so easy because he's practiced so hard to defuse that kind of defense.
"When you work on something all summer long, you come into a game and know how they're going to play you," Terry said. "It was like practice for him."
After going 1-6 against the Warriors the past two regular seasons, the Mavs are 2-0 this season, beating them once with Jackson and once without. The other was a 120-115 win in Oakland in November when he was suspended. Golden State had been 18-7 since his return, having won two in a row and four of five.
Josh Howard had 19 points and 13 rebounds, including a 3-pointer and three-point play during the fourth-quarter surge. Erick Dampier had 13 points, giving him double digits in consecutive games after having done so only once all season. He, too, was in a spirited mood with rare bursts of energy at both ends, mixing dunks and blocks.
Devin Harris scored 17, Stackhouse had 15 and Brandon Bass had 12 points and 11 rebounds for only the second double-double of his career; the other came in the other game against the Warriors this season. This one also came after being benched the previous game.
- So much for starting the new year looking ahead. The Mavs open '08 staring straight at their past: the Warriors, who ended their '07 title hopes, followed on Friday night by the Miami Heat, who knocked off Dallas in the '06 NBA Finals.
- Golden State center D.J. Mbenga saw some action in the third quarter. Mbenga broke into the league with Dallas when Don Nelson was in charge, but was waived earlier this season and hooked up with Nellie again.
- Mavs coach Avery Johnson said according to Dallas' efficiency rating system, Davis ranks second in the league behind LeBron James.