By Art Garcia, The Sports Xchange
DALLAS — The biggest cheer during an otherwise meaningless Tuesday night affair between the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets took place late in the fourth quarter as the guy sitting at the end of the bench stood up and starting walking to the scorer’s table.
Welcome to the NBA, Tony Romo.
The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback suited up, but he wasn’t going to play. That mattered little to the sellout American Airlines Center crowd in the final home game of the season.
“Just to be a part of it in there with them is a unique experience that not very many people have ever got to do,” Romo said. “I feel lucky.”
Romo actually stopped to talk to Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle during his late-game tease. Owner Mark Cuban playfully pulled Romo back to the bench as the fans chanted his name. Cuban said the NBA nixed the idea of Romo actually playing.
As for the game itself, Gary Harris’ 20 points led the stripped-down Nuggets to a 109-91 victory. Denver had four others score in double figures — Mason Plumlee (16), rookie Malik Beasley (16), Juan Hernangomez (14) and rookie Jamal Murray (10). Murray added 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
Beasley played a season-high 32 minutes after not playing more than 15 in any previous game.
“I have really been focused on improving my game even if I’m not playing,” Beasley said. “I just continue to stay working and stay humble.”
The Nuggets took control of the game by outscoring Dallas 34-18 in the second quarter and didn’t trail in the second half. Denver won the season series 3-1.
The Romo spectacle took attention from those who weren’t playing. The Mavericks were without Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Seth Curry, while Denver didn’t suit up Danilo Gallinari, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Jameer Nelson.
The Nuggets (39-42) were hoping the game would mean something, but they were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday. That prompted coach Michael Malone to hold many of his main players out.
He also didn’t mind the Romo hoopla.
“It was no big deal, they were trying to give him a special send off, and mission accomplished in that regard,” Malone said. “All the fans here were excited to see Tony and wanted him to get in the game but, obviously, I don’t think they are allowed to put him in the game.
“For us, we just have to play through it and avoid the distractions, but good for Tony and I think it was a nice gesture by the Mavericks to send him off in a nice manner.”
Dallas (32-49) is limping to the finish line having lost five in a row and nine of 10. Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high 21 and pulled down eight rebounds in his last game of an injury-plagued season.
“I’m a little disappointed now, obviously that the season is over and I feel the best I have all year, but that’s how it goes,” said Nowitzki, who won’t make the trip for the Mavericks’ Wednesday season finale at Memphis. “Hopefully I have big summer, work out and stay ready, and next year not have a freak injury where I will be out even more and stay in good shape.”
The season ends also Wednesday for Denver on the road in Oklahoma City.
The evening celebrated Romo’s career with the Cowboys before he transitions to the broadcast booth. Cuban, Carlisle and Nowitzki all played a part in getting Romo on the Mavericks’ bench. Romo took part in the starting lineup introduction and addressed the crowd after Nowitzki and Carlisle.
“He has stood for all the things that great Dallas athletes stand for,” Carlisle said. “He’s a great competitor, winner and plays hurt, the whole thing. And he’s been a great supporter of the Mavericks and good friend to myself, to Dirk, Mark and so many of us.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, running back Ezekiel Elliott, tight end Jason Witten were among those in attendance, along with other coaches and members of the team’s front office.