DALLAS -- A week off might not be the worst thing in the world for a 16-year veteran.
Nowitzki, who stayed home sick during Saturday night's win over the Milwaukee Bucks, scored 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting and needed to play only 27 minutes in his return. He added six rebounds and five assists, but his plus-minus was the most impressive category in his box-score line. The Mavs outscored the Grizzlies by 23 with Nowitzki on the court.
"It was obviously not what I planned on Saturday," Nowitzki said. "The good thing was I didn't feel great on Monday in practice -- I was still weak -- but we didn't have another game for two more days. By Tuesday, I was a lot better, and today, I felt fine like nothing happened. I used the break, I guess, to get healthy."
This was a stretch of schedule that Nowitzki and the Mavs had been looking forward to for several weeks. After finishing their four-game trip at Golden State, the Mavs had only two home games over an eight-day period.
Nowitzki would have preferred to avoid the 24-hour stomach bug that hit him Saturday, but there could be a long-term benefit to his 35-year-old legs logging only 27 minutes over eight days, especially after such a hectic November schedule.
One sure way to tell if Nowitzki feels fresh is his effectiveness putting the ball on the floor. That often means just one quick dribble after a pump fake before going up for his shot, a move he used successfully a few times against the Grizzlies.
"I was watching from the bench tonight, and I was like, 'He makes everything look so easy,'" point guard Jose Calderon said. "I was amazed how the guys guarding him kept jumping, and he just waited and knocked down the shot."
The team-wide benefit to the light stretch of schedule is that the Mavs had plenty of practice time, none of which Nowitzki missed. That's especially valuable for a team with so many new faces.
The poor quality of competition was a factor, but it's probably not a coincidence that the Mavs have had two strong defensive performances this week. The Bucks and Grizzlies combined to average 92 points on 42 percent shooting in losses to the fresh-legged Mavs, who focused much of their practice time over the past week on defensive rotations and pick-and-roll coverages.
"Hopefully, we'll use this time off to our advantage," Nowitzki said, "and use those fresh legs and go out and get some wins."