NEW YORK -- It's hard to hide when you're 7-3, and it was harder still for Kristaps Porzingis to hide a smile when his idol, Dirk Nowitzki, lumbered over for a pregame hug and handshake Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

As Dirk made the rounds and shook more hands, Porzingis put his hands on his knees as MSG cameras caught him grinning like a kid.

Then again, he is a kid -- only 20 years old, alive on Earth only two more years than Nowitzki has been in the NBA.

"When I was 20, I was scared to death out there and had a brutal first year," Nowitzki said after the Mavericks hung on for a 104-97 victory over the Knicks -- enduring a barrage from Porzingis, his protege, in the fourth quarter. "He’s averaging almost a double-double. He’s way better than I was at 20, so the comparison’s probably unfair to him."

It was a marquee matchup of players whose size, skill and style have been favorably compared even at this early stage of Porzingis' career. The NBA's rookie of the month for November, Porzingis has done so much more than average 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks over his first 22 games. He's evoked memories of a much skinnier, much younger Nowitzki, who came to the league from Germany in 1998 and changed the power forward position forever.

"When he came in the league, there was no guy that was the quintessential stretch power forward," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He has redefined that position, and in doing so, he’s been a game-changer in a big way because there are now a generation of players in the last 10 years coming through taking his example. You very rarely see power forward types that don’t shoot the ball well. And I’m sure that Porzingis watched Dirk when he was a much younger kid and followed that example as well."

That, he did. Yet it was the elder Nowitzki -- the 7-foot German still producing and winning at age 37 -- who was blown away.

"Yeah, he's the real deal," Nowitzki said. "He’s tall, he’s long, he can shoot, he can put it on the floor. I used to be able to put it on the floor a little bit. Those days are long gone. He can go both ways, he’s got a little fadeaway on the block, he’s already got a little one- or two-dribble and up. He's got some runners already. His repertoire is already pretty full."

Porzingis showed all of it on Monday night, scoring 28 points on 13-for-18 shooting with 12 points in the fourth as the Knicks cut a 20-point lead to four with 49.6 seconds left -- on a high-arcing 3-pointer from Porzingis, the fourth pick in the draft from Latvia.

Nowitzki had 25 on 9-for-18 shooting, teaching and playing at the same time.

"He's not the most athletic, and he's not the fastest guy on the court, but somehow, he always gets his shot off," Porzingis said. "He's so smart. When you just watch him play, you [see] how he tricks the opposing player. ... Those kind of things come with experience. But those are things I can learn from him."

Scary thought, according to Carlisle.

"Porzingis is a special, special player," Carlisle said. "The city of New York has Phil Jackson to thank for that one."

Earlier, the most famous member of the Mavs' traveling entourage revealed how much Dallas coveted Porzingis on draft night.

"It’s funny because everywhere I went [after the draft] and dealt with New York basketball fans, they were like, ‘Oh, man,’" Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. "And I was like, 'No, you don’t understand.' We would’ve traded up in a heartbeat to get that kid. We loved him."

The Knicks have a long way to go before they build the kind of winning culture that the Mavs have -- Dallas has made the playoffs in 14 of 15 seasons -- but they're on the right track. And while comparisons between Porzingis and Nowitzki may be premature, they're also early validation that Jackson, you know, may have some idea what he's doing.

"It’s good for New York," Cuban said. "It’s good to get people excited. New York’s a great basketball town and a great place to play. I think it’s great for Carmelo [Anthony]. If anything, it’s going to extend Carmelo’s career and take a lot of stress off him."

Ah, yes, Carmelo Anthony. Remember him? Let's not push Melo out the Garden loading dock just yet while we put Porzingis in Springfield, but it was Anthony who was feeling the stress on Monday night.

One sequence in the fourth typified it, when Anthony argued a no-call and was assessed an ill-timed technical foul with Dallas leading 100-91 with 2:22 left. Anthony missed a 3-pointer on the Knicks' next trip, and after Porzingis hit two threes in a row -- including a 28-footer than appeared on its way to scraping the iconic pinwheel ceiling -- Anthony was called for an illegal screen on another 3-point attempt from Porzingis.

Luckily for Anthony, who finished 6-for-18 with 17 points, it didn't go down.

What did go down was an entertaining duel between one of the NBA's rising Europoean stars and the one who basically drew up the blueprint.

"When I first got in the league, there was a lot of one-on-one, a lot of pounding," Nowitzki said. "Some power forwards would dribble the ball five or six times, turn around, pump fake and get fouled or something. When they started building in the zone, that’s when the game started to change. All five guys now are able to move a little bit, able to shoot, and the game is more like a passing game like we grew up in Europe playing – pass, cut, next guy, pick and roll. It’s been a lot of fun to watch. The Spurs, when they won it two years ago, put a clinic on in how you’re supposed to play as a team and that’s where the game has evolved to."

And somehow, the evolution that Nowitzki spearheaded has brought a 20-year-old Latvian to Madison Square Garden. Their worlds colliding on Monday night between Seventh and Eighth Avenues was a treat, to say the least.

For both of them.

"I have to keep working," Porzingis said, "and hopefully I can be as good as he thinks I can be."

Rookie Kristaps Porzingis thrived while dueling with Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki.
Rookie Kristaps Porzingis thrived while dueling with Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki. (USATSI)