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Thursday, February 9, 2012
Minute Men: Dirk Nowitzki's PT, stats trending up

By Jeff Caplan

Our weekly look at how coach Rick Carlisle is managing the minutes of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd during this 66-game schedule:

Dirk Nowitzki is back, baby.

"I was telling the guys that I've actually got my confidence back and my ability to move," Nowitzki said after scoring 25 points with nine rebounds in Wednesday's 105-95 win over the Denver Nuggets. “I think that was the main thing."

Whether Nowitzki's three-game surge will be enough to extend his All-Star streak to 11 in a row will be known tonight when the reserves are announced. Of greater concern to the Dallas Mavericks is that their franchise player, the reigning NBA Finals MVP is again playing like one. And when that's the case, anything is possible.

In terms of minutes, coach Rick Carlisle has clearly decided that Nowitzki can handle an uptick. Not that Carlisle is taking him to 40, but in five of his last seven games, Nowitzki has logged at least 35 minutes. In three games this past week, he's played 33, 35 and 35 minutes. Prior to the last seven games, Nowitzki played at least 35 minutes just four times.

As for Jason Kidd, he's still not  back, at least not quite yet.

J-Kidd
Season averages: 28.7 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.5 rpg
The breakdown: Kidd said he plans to practice today and could play Friday night at Minnesota. The last time he returned from back spasms, Carlisle turned him loose for 29 minutes and then 34, 35, 34, 34, 33 and 33 minutes before he strained his right calf two minutes into the Jan. 27 game against Utah. In the nine games he played prior to his return, Kidd logged 34 or 35 minutes (and never more than 35) just three times. He's now missed six games with this injury and 10 overall.

Dirk
Season averages: 31.9 mpg, 17.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 apg
The breakdown: Nowitzki finally appears to be at a point where the more he plays, the better he feels. That's in stark contrast to earlier this season when it seemed the more he played, the more he aggravated that right knee. With his confidence flooding back, evidenced by the array of moves he's showing in recent games, Nowitzki's minutes are climbing toward 32 a game, still the lowest of his career outside of his rookie season. With eight tough games ahead leading to the halfway point of the season and the All-Star break, it wouldn't be surprising to see Dallas playing in a lot of close games and to see Nowitzki's minutes continue to trend upward.