Anyone seeking the negative effects of the NBA's compressed season should look no further than Dirk Nowitzki's performance against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
With the Dallas Mavericks playing their sixth game in eight nights, the team's star forward scored only six points on 3-of-11 shooting in a 93-71 loss. It was his lowest scoring output since he put up five in a Dec. 18, 2009, game against Houston that he left early because of an injury.
Nowitzki acknowledged that the short turnaround is affecting him.
"I like that we fought back and tried, but offensively nobody had legs," Nowitzki said. "A bunch of shots were right there that could have gone. (Jason Terry), myself, everything seemed to come out."
Making matters worse was an injury to Jason Kidd, who left late in the first quarter with a lower back injury and never returned. The team said he will be re-evaluated Friday.
The Mavericks hit only 27 of 77 shots, including 1 of 19 from 3-point range. The Spurs, meanwhile, made only 34 of 86 shots from the field but hit 16 of 33 from long range.
Matt Bonner led San Antonio with 17 points, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range. Richard Jefferson added 16 points, hitting three 3-pointers, and Gary Neal scored all his 12 points on 3s.
"It's important," Bonner said of the win. "It's a long season, it's early in the season. They were coming off a back-to-back, so you've gotta keep some perspective. We played hard tonight, protected our home court, and we're happy with the win."
Bonner's 17 points gave him more than Nowtizki and Spurs veteran Tim Duncan (10 points) combined. It's not a feat that Bonner expects to repeat any time soon.
"That was a Christmas miracle," Bonner said.
A miracle made possible by a tired Mavericks team.
"Some of it is on us," Nowitzki said, "but six games in eight days is a lot for anybody."
The Spurs were playing their second game without leading scorer Manu Ginobili. Ginobili had successful surgery on the fifth metacarpal in his left hand Thursday morning, the team announced. He's expected to be out about six weeks. He was hurt at Minnesota on Monday night.
Neal started for the Spurs and made his presence felt on the opening possession.
"It was originally designed for Timmy in the post," Neal said of his basket only 12 seconds into the game. "But my defender was sagging off me a little bit, and I shot it. I'm glad it went in. It might have been a quick sub if I missed it."
Neal hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter and the Spurs jumped out to an 18-point lead in the first quarter. The Spurs led 55-29 at halftime behind 11-of-18 shooting from 3-point range.
The teams combined for only 24 points in the third quarter, and with his team trailing 66-42 heading into the fourth, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle elected not to play Nowitzki in the final period.
Terry scored 12 points to lead the Mavericks, while Delonte West added 10. No other Dallas player reached double figures.
While the Spurs aren't about to give back the victory, they were the first ones to admit this wasn't the typical Mavericks team -- and certainly not a typical Nowitzki.
"You didn't see the real Dirk tonight, that's for sure," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "As the season wears on, all the teams will get into better shape and get sharper and look better."
Terry, for one, is ready for the rematch.
"We're a team that prides ourselves on getting stops defensively and making them pay on the offensive end, and that didn't happen tonight," Terry said. "Maybe when guys get their legs back, we'll start making shots at a higher percentage."
Notes: The Mavericks have 22 back-to-backs this season and the Spurs have 20. ... F Ike Diogu, signed earlier this week, played his first game for the Spurs. He played 4:43 and didn't score. ... James Anderson, who started the previous game in place of Ginobili, played only 6 minutes and scored five points.