Dirk Nowitzki said he wasn't thrilled at first about the plan brought to him Friday that would swap playing four consecutive games for something of a week-long training camp to get his ailing right knee and body in better condition.
Then coach Rick Carlisle told him he didn't have a choice. Nowitzki said he had his first supervised workout Saturday morning and then he sat out his first game of the season and watched his teammates eek out an 83-81 victory at the New Orleans Hornets to wrap up this wild four-game road trip with a split.
"They approached me with it [Friday] at the meeting. I wasn’t thrilled at the beginning," said Nowitzki, who reversed his decision after some reflection. "I just thought it was a good decision for everybody. I think I’m not helping right now anyway and the guys are better off if I’m not out there, so it just gives me time to really do some of the stuff that I couldn’t be doing because my knee was bothering me the last couple of weeks. I couldn’t lift or run and do the stuff I needed to do because my knee was swollen most of the time. So this week my knee feels better and this actually gives me some time to lift and really get back where I should be, and I look forward to coming back."
His expected return is Sunday for a payback game at home against the San Antonio Spurs. Nowitzki scored six points in an ugly wire-to-wire blowout down south on Jan. 5. He is scheduled to miss games against Phoenix (Monday), Minnesota (Wednesday) and Utah (Friday).
Nowitzki said that playing in the Olympic qualifying tournament in late summer was, in retrospect, the wrong decision. But he said it was a decision he made for the love of his country. He said the combination of the long championship run and the Olympic tournament burned him out -- "I was so fed up with basketball, I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t smell it, couldn’t go in the gym" -- and then uncertainty of the lockout further skewed his normal training schedule. Now, he said, he's paying the price.
"You saw it. I couldn’t go by anybody off the dribble and that’s part of my game; right now is just basically a pop-up shooter every time I caught it and if I didn’t have it [a shot] I had to swing it because I just couldn’t make a move, couldn’t go by anybody and just didn’t feel comfortable," Nowitzki said. "So that’s something I have to work on this week, again, is putting the ball on the floor and really getting confidence in my leg strength and getting that back and then I’ll be back to my old self."
He continued: "I already worked out this morning. I’m going to work hard this week. The knee definitely feels better than it did two or three weeks ago, but by me continuously playing on it I guess it wasn’t getting better quick enough, so it’s better for me to take this week and really work hard and lift every other day and really get my leg strength. I’m looking forward to it."
Nowitzki averaged 17.5 points and 5.4 rebounds through the first16 games, good enough to lead the team in scoring and rank third in rebounding, but well off his career averages.
He added that he heads into this week of work away from the game floor with a little extra motivation. Nowitzki said that he's been reading that some are suggesting that at 33 and fresh off an NBA Finals MVP, he could be on the cusp of wearing down.
"I consider this week here, for me, as another week of training camp where I can use it and get better," Nowitzki said. "Got a little fire back; a lot of guys say I’m done. I obviously read the stuff. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon."