The difference this time: The Dallas Mavericks star threw up an airball.
Nowitzki will need more time to work his way back from a surgery that cost him the first 27 games of the season. Even then, it may not be enough to keep up with the San Antonio Spurs and their Big Three.
Tony Parker had 21 points and nine assists, Manu Ginobili had several key baskets among his 20 points and the Spurs handed the Mavericks their sixth straight loss, 111-86 on Sunday night.
Two nights after his second 30-point game of the season, Tim Duncan had 10 in the second quarter before settling in for a more typical outing: 18 points and 10 rebounds for his 16th double-double to go with three blocks.
The Spurs, who snapped a four-game road losing streak, never trailed a week after beating the Mavericks by 38 in San Antonio when Nowitzki made a surprise debut earlier than expected.
"I liked the focus of the team," Parker said. "It's never easy to play a team that we beat pretty bad last week. From the get-go, we moved the ball, took good shots and played great defense."
Nowitzki followed his first-half airball by missing three more in the second half before finally getting a basket on a driving layup. He finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting—and didn't come close to trying another 3-pointer. He did have five rebounds and three blocked shots.
"He's not Dirk Nowitzki, basically, one of the greatest players that's ever played, so it's going to take time for him," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's very, very difficult when you have a guy like that out, and then he comes back."
Darren Collison scored 18 points to lead the Mavericks, whose losing streak is their longest since January of their championship season in 2010-11.
Dallas was within five in the third quarter when Ginobili hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, and he made an even longer 3 with the shot clock inside a second to put San Antonio ahead 80-70. He finished the third quarter the same way he did the second—with a last-second shot that put the Spurs up by 12.
Ginobili scored 10 points in the third quarter and added five rebounds and five assists for the game with just one turnover.
"We were very solid, and at not one point did we let them have a great run, and have one of those streaks where they make a lot of 3s," Ginobili said.
Ginobili keyed a late spurt in the first half that turned a five-point lead into a 12-point halftime edge. He assisted on a 3-pointer by Kawhi Leonard and scored the final two baskets of the half, the last a pull-up jumper with less than a second left for a 57-45 lead.
The Spurs ran out to a 20-6 lead on midrange jumpers from Parker, who scored 10 in the first quarter, and a couple of 3-pointers from Danny Green, who had a career-high seven from long range against Dallas a week ago. Green finished with eight points and was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.
The Mavericks closed the gap late in the first behind Elton Brand, who scored six in the first quarter after going scoreless for the second time this season two nights earlier against Denver. Brand had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
O.J. Mayo, Dallas' leading scorer, was held under 10 points for the third time in four games. He came in averaging 9 points on 33-percent shooting the previous four games and finished with eight on 4 of 14 shooting. Green blocked two of his 3-point attempts in the second half, including one after Mayo tried a pump fake that instead just gave Green enough time to get there before Mayo shot it.
NOTES: Mavericks F Vince Carter made his first start after coming off the bench the first 30 games. ... Spurs G Gary Neal missed his third straight game with a strained right calf. ... Mayo had a career-high five steals in Friday's loss to Denver. But he also had six turnovers for the third straight game. ... Green was 14 of 19 from 3-point range the previous three games. He was 7 of 8 when the Spurs set a franchise record with 20 3-pointers a week ago against Dallas. ... Oklahoma football players drew some boos when they were shown on the big board. The Sooners play Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on Jan. 4. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M attended a Mavs game a few days after winning the award.