SAN ANTONIO -- When the Dallas Mavericks wrapped up Thursday’s practice at Trinity University, coach Rick Carlisle, for a 17th consecutive day, received the daily inquiry.
“What’s the latest on Dirk? Will he play (in this case against the San Antonio Spurs Friday)?”
And then Carlisle, for a 17th consecutive day, provided his unwavering response: “We’ll let you know. He’s working at it and making progress. He’s day-to-day.”
Dirk Nowitzki has been listed as day-to-day since he sprained his right knee Dec. 27 in Oklahoma City. After X-rays and an MRI exam, the injury was presumably diagnosed as a minor setback and the team listed his status accordingly. Speculation therefore, and understandably so, focused on a quick return to the court for the Mavs' leading scorer and MVP candidate.
Yet on Wednesday at Indiana, Nowitzki was a spectator for an eighth consecutive game. While it is clear that he is making progress -- his sprints around the basketball court, including cornering the edges instead of running in straight lines Thursday prove that -- Nowitzki still did not participate in team drills, leaving a potential return against the Spurs in doubt.
After initially wanting to end talk about Nowitzki's progress and potential return beyond anything more than the usual daily update of "we'll let you know," Carlisle did shed a bit more light on the matter as the days and losses (six in eight games) without Nowitzki mount.
"Dirk increases his workouts every day and signs are positive. But it’s very important that we focus on the guys we have available at this time and make sure that he gets back absolutely 100 percent healthy," Carlisle said. "We’ve listed him day-to-day because we don’t believe this is a serious injury and he is making progress. On the other hand, we are going to maintain an extremely cautious posture on this going forward, and like everyone else we want him to get back 100 percent healthy as soon as possible."
Carlisle added: "There are different phases of the rehab process. He’s making progress. I mean he’s making real progress, I think you guys see that. We’ll let you know when he’s going to play. Hey, it could be very soon or it could be a while."
The Mavs could very well head into a second game against San Antonio in nine days without their main man. During Nowitzki's absence, the Spurs have opened up a six-game lead on Dallas and the Mavs enter the game having lost three in a row for the second time during this stretch. They'll try to avoid a first four-game skid of the season.
Nowitzki hoped to return during the last homestand and then a week ago he acknowledged that he had underestimated the recovery time needed. He desperately wants to get back during this four-game road trip. Friday night doesn't appear terribly optimistic. Perhaps Saturday at Memphis or Monday at Detroit?
We'll have to wait and see. Nowitzki remains day-to-day.
"In the meantime, as a team," Carlisle said, "we must focus on the guys we have available and find ways to win games with them."