Is Dirk Nowitzki healthy enough to play?

CHICAGO -- Charles Barkley believes Dirk Nowitzki returned too early from a sprained right knee and said so late Thursday night on the TNT postgame show.

Barkley said, "He is not healthy. He looks like he's dragging his leg. If Dirk Nowitzki's not right they have got no chance."

Nowitzki played in his fourth game Thursday since returning from the sprained knee he suffered on Dec. 27. It was really only his third full game back because he played just 15 minutes in his first game before getting ejected for arguing in Memphis. Nowitzki played 37 minutes in the Dallas Mavericks' big win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesdsay and then came back less than 24 hours later and logged 38 minutes in Thursday's 82-77 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

He didn't shoot well in either game. He was 5-of-15 for 14 points against L.A., and 6-of-16 for 19 points at Chicago.

After the Lakers game, Nowitzki said his conditioning after missing nearly three weeks seemed to be more of a concern than his knee. After the loss to the Bulls, Nowitzki continued to say his knee is improving, but he has yet to give himself a clean bill of health.

"It's all right, it's improving," he said. "I just have to get my legs back under me, work myself back in it. It's probably going to take a few more games, but it's improving from game to game, so I've still got some work to do."

Nowitzki missed nine games and the Mavs went 2-7 while Caron Butler was also lost for the season, so it's not out of the question that Nowitzki may have tried to return sooner than he might have if the team was holding its own.

However, Nowitzki and the team maintain that they took an extremely cautious approach during his recovery process. He was listed as day-to-day after the injury, but he didn't return until Jan. 15.