He entered the game with 6:28 left in the first quarter to a hearty mix of cheers and boos from the San Antonio faithful. Nowitzki got his first points of the season on a dunk with 26.6 seconds to play in the first. The former MVP played in one preseason game for the Mavs but had missed the team's first 27 regular-season games.
He went 3 for 4 from the field with six rebounds in his debut but had expected to play more than 20 minutes, but with Dallas being blown out it didn't seem necessary.
"In the middle of the third we were down by 80, so I didn't really have to go back in," Nowitzki said, exaggerating the Mavs' largest deficit just a bit.
Nowitzki, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 19, went through his first full practice on Wednesday. It was thought that the 34-year-old veteran wouldn't be ready to make his season debut until after Christmas.
Nowitzki decided to play less than an hour before tipoff after testing the knee during practice last week.
"Before the game I felt decent, so I said I'm going to give it a go," Nowitzki said. "I felt actually good out there. I thought the wind was OK, but my legs were a little heavy there after a couple of trips up and down but I thought I fought through it OK."
The 11-time All-Star has averaged 22.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his 14 NBA seasons. Nowitzki said last week that it would take some time to ease back into the lineup.
Nowitzki had hoped to return to practice within three weeks of the operation, but the rehab took longer than he expected.
"It's as slow as you can get unfortunately," Nowitzki said last week when asked about his recovery. "The swelling at the beginning was just so bad, and we don't really know why. Maybe I was trying too early to do something, nobody really knows.
"People react to surgery I guess different, and mine was just really swollen and that really set me back two or three weeks, couldn't really do much. By that point we started doing a little more, the strength was gone, my wind was gone, so the last two weeks I had to work extremely hard to get some of that back, get my strength back, get some of my wind back."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.