Dirk's back, and so is the knee sleeve

NEW YORK — Dirk Nowitzki did not play in the Dallas Mavericks' game against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, part of a three-day layoff. Leading up to Friday night's visit to the Brooklyn Nets, Nowitzki said observers would have to wait and see on whether the time off would lead to positive results in his return.

The results were mixed, as he finished with 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the 107-106 loss to the Nets. Afterward, the face of the Dallas franchise gave an update on his health.

“Yeah, it felt good,” Nowitzki said. “The legs felt good. I just didn’t have a great rhythm to start the game. I kept fighting and plugging trying to make the best out of it, but it just didn’t happen.”

His rhythm might have been missing, but Nowitzki did return with something familiar: a rubber sleeve on his left knee.

It's the second time this season Nowitzki has had to wear a sleeve there. He sported it during a span of 13 games from Nov. 12 through Dec. 4. It didn't seem to slow him down, as he averaged 22.3 points on 51 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from 3-point range -- all slightly above his full-season figures in those categories.

After saying his legs felt good, Nowitzki backtracked somewhat when asked why he was wearing the sleeve.

“It [the knee] hasn’t been great the last couple of weeks, but it didn’t bother me any [Friday],” Nowitzki explained. “It’s no problem. It’s been a little stiff. But if you’re 35 or 36, something is going to be stiff.”

Nowitzki has been able to battle through lower-leg issues over the course of his career due to his rubber ankles, but knee issues are starting to become the ailment that pops up more frequently.

It’s always a cause for concern when knees come into play for Nowitzki. He missed the first 27 games of last season while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He underwent a precautionary MRI on his left knee after last season, to ensure that he didn’t need any additional work done on the joint.

It’s safe to assume that Nowitzki’s assessment after the game is probably the closest anyone will get to an actual update going forward. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t overly detailed the last time Nowitzki had to wear the sleeve; to expect anything else would be foolish.

For now, sleeve watch is back on. For Dallas’ sake, the sleeve had better not be a harbinger of bad things to come.