Dirk Nowitzki returns; Jason Kidd out
Nowitzki scored just 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but he grabbed a season-high 13 boards in Sunday night's 101-100 overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs after his eight-day personal training camp of sorts designed to strengthen his bothersome right knee.
He said he still experienced some swelling in the knee during his two-a-day workouts that focused on weight lifting and running, but said he felt better on the floor and that it was obvious by his movement.
"Moving better, got a couple of one-dribble, two-dribble-and-up pull-ups, which basically was nonexistent before I left," Nowitzki said. "It's coming back. My legs are getting stronger, my base is getting stronger, so I just got to keep on working."
After being extended to 38 minutes because of overtime, tying for his second-most minutes of the season, Nowitzki said he's not worried about being able to bounce back for Monday night's game at the Phoenix Suns.
"I'll be fine," Nowitzki said.
Nowitzki sat out the last four games. Early in the season, he started wearing a protective sleeve over his right knee and as the season progressed, he acknowledged that it was giving him trouble.
Prior to a game at New Orleans on Jan. 21, Carlisle announced the unusual step of removing Nowitzki from the lineup for four games so he could concentrate on improving his knee and his overall conditioning.
"It's been very good," Carlisle said of Nowitzki's progress.
Kidd, who was hurt barely two minutes into Friday's 15-point win over the Utah Jazz, received relatively good news about his injury.
The initial fear was that Kidd might have sustained an Achilles injury because of his immediate description of how it felt as he limped off the court. He told head athletic trainer Casey Smith that it felt like someone had kicked him in the back of the shin.
The replay showed no one around Kidd, which sparked the initial fear of a more serious injury.
"They were a little nervous I had torn the Achillles or something because that's, I guess, the common theme when you say you got kicked in the back of the calf," Kidd said. "I'm just happy it was just a strain."
Kidd, 38, missed four games earlier this month and has already nearly tripled the number of games missed this season than in any of his past six seasons.
"He's been so consistent just being out there on the floor," Carlisle said. "Really, I don't remember him sitting a game for injury since I've been here. We've rested him a couple of times, but it may have been a couple things where he was banged up slightly.
"This happened on that transition play where he was going back and (Devin) Harris was kind of in a spin and just a freaky play."
Guard Delonte West, who sat out Friday's game with a tight right hamstring, rejoined the Mavs' lineup Sunday. Swingman Vince Carter made his return Friday from a five-game layoff with a sprained left foot.
The Mavs haven't suffered from their string of injuries to key players, a credit to the depth they assembled purposely for this rugged, 66-game schedule.
Before Sunday, Dallas was 7-1 in games in which one of its two future Hall of Famers didn't play. Sunday was the 14th time the Mavs lacked Kidd, Nowitzki or Carter.
"We've been without two Hall of Famers now for a substantial number of games, or at least one of them, and that's very challenging," Carlisle said. "Fortunately, we are deep and the guys have taken the challenge to be able to get it done when they're out."
Nowitzki spoke with the media on Thursday, his lone interview session during his exile from playing, and said his knee is making progress.
With Sunday's win, the Mavs took over sole possession of first place in the Southwest Division. The Spurs won the first meeting in San Antonio, 93-71, on a barrage of 3-pointers.
The Spurs continued to be without leading scorer Manu Ginobili, who broke his left hand on Jan. 2.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.