NEW ORLEANS -- Fifteen years ago, Dirk Nowitzki was a painfully thin, 7-foot-1, spot-up shooter from Germany, and he didn't know if his unconventional perimeter game belonged in the NBA.
But then-Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson, an iconoclast, believed in him, and Nelson threw aside the conventional wisdom that a player of Nowitzki's height belonged chained under the basket instead of roaming the perimeter.
On Sunday night against the New Orleans Hornets, Nowitzki proved how clairvoyant Nelson was. Now in his 15th season, the 10-time NBA All-Star became the 13th player in NBA history to notch 25,000 career points by scoring 19 points to power the Mavericks to a 107-89 victory at the New Orleans Arena.
"I think 25 (thousand) is a lot of points," Nowitzki said. "It's a nice milestone. I've played in the league for a while. It means I've stayed injury-free for the most part, and it means I've had a lot of great teammates and a lot of good coaches. I feel like I've got a couple of good years left. We have to get back to a championship level this summer."
Even though the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years -- and for the first time since Nowitzki's second year in the league -- they took some solace in climbing back to 40-40 on the season. They were 10 games under .500 in January and have won 26 of 42 game since then to reach .500 for the first time since Dec. 12.
Ninety seconds after the game, Nowitzki ran into the locker room and whipped out a battery-operated trimmer to shave the beard he and his teammates had vowed to grow until they got back .500.
"That shave felt amazing," Nowitzki said with a broad smile. "There was some food caught in there from a couple of weeks ago that just came out. I'm very, very happy. I may get kissed tonight."
"I'm sure his wife will be very happy," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
Carlisle has been most amazed by Nowitzki's day-in, day-out commitment to excellence, which he said has been the secret to his career success. Carlisle said Nowitzki is most proud of the NBA championship he brought to Dallas two years ago, but as a coach, Carlisle marvels at the All-Star's all-around game.
"He's revolutionized the game in many ways," Carlisle said. "He's the only 7-foot-1 guys who ever played the game the way he does. That's by being good around the basket, being great at mid-range, being great a long distance away, driving it, having the ability to shoot any kind of off-balance, unorthodox shot possible. He's not only a great player -- he's an innovator and a pioneer in this game, and he'll go down in history as one of the guys who changed the game."
Nowitzki needed just 10 points to crack the 25,000-point mark, and he got the basket he needed with a trademark, step-back 18-foot jumper over the outstretched arms of Hornets center Robin Lopez with 6:43 left in the second quarter. The jumper gave him 11 points in the half and 25,001 for his 14-year career.
When Nowitzki drained the shot, every player on the Dallas bench stood and raised his arms, and when the game was stopped briefly a few second later, Nowitzki gave a left-handed salute to his teammates and then hugged Vince Carter near halfcourt.
"It's amazing," carter said. "Not many guys have done it. It's an unbelievable accomplishment. I'm glad I was there to witness it."
Nowitzki said he was so overpowered in his rookie season that he wondered if would be able to stick in the NBA. But he credited Nelson with sticking with him, and Nowitzki always tried to add something to his game every summer.
"My first year was really tough," Nowitzki recalled. "I had a hard time adjusting off the floor. I was living away from my parents for the first time. I was really skinny and I was getting pushed around. I was just basically a good, spot-up shooters, and my game was not up to par.
"I had to put in a lot of work. My first two years, I played summer league. I played (with the German) national team in the summer. I just put in the hours and work to get better and bring something new every summer. It's been a crazy, fun ride, topping it off with the championship a couple of years ago. That's the experience I'll remember the most in my career."
After scoring 11 in the first half to pass the milestone, Nowitzki hit eight of the Mavericks' first 11 points of the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away for good.
Hornets coach Monty Williams said he was disappointed in his team's effort in the final home game of the season. The Hornets (27-54) have lost four straight and finished 16-25 at home.
"We have a lot of guys that need to grow up," Williams said. "I can only hide so much. That is something we've been trying to do all year. This is not AQAU or college. This is the big-boys' league."
NOTES: Carlisle said Nowitzki is a rare player. "His legacy is intact, regardless of any other scoring," Carlisle said. "He's (also) one of those 13 guys -- a 10-time All-Star, Finals MVP and league MVP. There's only 13 of them, and he's one of them. That's pretty strong." ... New Orleans played its final home game as the Hornets before becoming the Pelicans next year... Look for the Hornets to add veteran free agents this summer to the youngest roster in the NBA. "We don't want to bring in veterans for veterans' sake," Williams said. "We want to bring in the right guys that may be familiar with our system or guys who I may have a relationship with."