DALLAS -- Friday was a perfect example of how the Dallas Mavericks are going to nurse Dirk Nowitzki back i nto the mix at a slow pace.
Nowitzki played just 18 minutes against the Denver Nuggets, including not playing at all in the fourth period. The 11-time All-Star played the final 5:18 of the third period and didn't play again.
Nowitzki had played 26 minutes during Thursday's loss in Oklahoma City, and the Mavs dlidn't want to place any added stress on their franchise player's body. Especially since Nowitzki is just in his third game back after returning from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
"It was too much tonight,'' coach Rick Carlisle, on why Nowitzki sat the fourth quarter. "That was my decision.
"It was back-to-back games and he isn't limping or anything, but he just can't give us what everyone expects him to give. We had to get a different guy in there and this process is going to be ongoing.''
Nowitzki was greeted with a standing ovation by the fans as he was playing in his first game in American Airlines Center since Game 4 of the first round of last season's playoffs against Oklahoma City. He wound up scoring all five of his points in the first quarter and finished the night just 2-of-10 from the field with one rebound, one assist and one steal.
"I'm going to work myself into better shape, obviousl,y and can help a little more, but right now I'm not helping that much,'' Nowitzki said. "I was a step slow, that was obvious.
"I had really no lift on my jumper, so everything was in and out, but that last little thing is missing. This was my first back-to-back and really was my first games. I didn't even play a preseason game besides that one in Berlin, so these are my first games in a long, long time, so it's ugly but I've got keep fighting, got to keep working hard on practice days and eventually I'll be able to come back."
Noiwtzki knows with the extra patience, hisgame will return to its old form.
"It's just small things add up right now,'' Nowitzki said. "You know, making little mistakes and that's just the way this tough stretch has been going, turning little mistakes into big mistakes and the other team capitalizes on it.
"That kind of sums up the stretch unfortunately, but we've got to keep plugging."
The Mavs have lost eight of their past nine games and will face a San Antonio Spurs team on Sunday that just beat them by 38 points five days ago.
"It's not pretty right now, obviously,'' Nowitzki said. "Not pretty defensively, not pretty offensively, not pretty on the glass, so we've got to keep on working and keep on plugging.
"Eventually we'll work ourselves out of it. ... This is not the time to go separate ways. When it's tough, you've got to pull together and
hopefully we can pull through."
The Mavs are just delighted Nowitzki is back on the court playing again. The other stuff -- him getting back to his all-star level -- they know will come.
"With him coming back it's great, having the big fellow on the floor,'' forward Shawn Marion said. "But his conditioning is not right just yet.''
Marion, though, has grown tired of the excuses for the losses that have piled up for a team that's now 12-18 and have dropped five straight games.
"We can't keep throwing up all these damn excuses,'' Marion said. "We have to go out there and compete.
"We get paid to do a job and we have to go out there and compete and that's it.''
-- Dwain Price
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