NEW ORLEANS -- Caron Butler's return from back spasms that sidelined him for three games and nine days didn't go as smoothly as he would have liked. He finished with five points, no rebounds, two assists and a turnover.
Butler played the entire first quarter and then saw just 10:26 of floor time the rest of the way. He missed his first four shots and made 2-of-6 in the first quarter, leading the team in shot attempts in the period. He sat out the second quarter and missed his only shot attempt in more than five minutes of action in the third.
He played the first 5:02 of the fourth quarter before Dirk Nowitzki subbed in for him despite having five fouls, but coach Rick Carlisle couldn't wait any longer to bring back his only consistent scorer on the night. Butler did not return.
"It’s a process when you’re out for a week-plus," Carlisle said. "I thought he moved well in the first quarter. He had good shots, they had a chance. We played well as a team when he was out there. As the game went on, I made decisions to go with other guys, but I think he’s going to be fine. And, we need him."
The Mavs were plus-two with Butler on the floor. The only other Mavs starter that finished with a plus-rating was Nowitzki, who was a plus-17. But afterward Butler seemed miffed regarding his playing time. He equated his more than 25 minutes of bench time with last season's playoff series when Carlisle sat him down for the entire second half of Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs because of poor shooting and turnovers.
"Whatever he wants," Butler said of his playing time. "It’s just one of those things. I felt great from a health standpoint. You just got to work your way back in. I experienced that before here. Once the team gets momentum with different lineups, [I'm] sitting out and just cheering and trying to keep them going; kind of the same thing that happened in the playoffs last year. So, you just root them on and support from the sidelines."
Before he suffered back spasms in the third quarter against the Boston Celtics on Nov. 8, Butler wasn't knocking down his mid-range jumper with regularity. He entered Wednesday's 99-97 loss to the New Orleans Hornets shooting 39.1 percent from the field and averaging 14.7 points.
The 6-foot-7 veteran said he felt he was starting to hit his stride in the three-and-a-half games prior to the injury, although he was just 21-of-54 in that span.
"I got to run and get out and try to make plays, maintain staying aggressive and doing things like that. That’s just the case right now," Butler said. "I was developing a nice rhythm. I had a good game against the Clippers and Denver and I had it going in the first half of the Boston game, and kind of got set back from the injury.
"But I battle. The one thing I’m never going to do is lay down and buy into the bull. I’m going to continue to play hard and continue to leave it out there. I’ll be back."
Butler is in the final year of his contract. During training camp, Carlisle said he talked to both Butler and Shawn Marion about the possibility of coming off the bench. Ultimately, Carlisle chose to make Marion a reserve.
Nowitzki, the team's longest-tenured player and its unquestioned captain, said he's not concerned about Butler's mindset or his game.
"He’s just coming off an injury, so usually when you miss a couple games you just don’t waltz out there and be at the same level you were when you left," Nowitzki said. "So just come into the lineup slow and try to find your game and he’ll be all right. I’m not worried about Caron. He’s a warrior. He’s been a warrior his whole career."