When Dirk Nowitzki was sidelined for the first 27 games of the 2012-13 season while recuperating from knee surgery, the nightly question was: When’s he going to be back?
Now, he’s been back for a week and three games, and the nightly question is: When is Dirk going to play like Dirk?
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle urged everyone to exercise patience, which is a little difficult for fans when their team is 12-18 with a five-game losing streak.
“There shouldn’t be any evaluation until at least the middle of January,” Carlisle said before the Mavericks-Spurs game Sunday. “I don’t think anybody should analyze anything. This is a tedious process. And he’s not just back right now to play the games. He’s back to get his career to the point where he can play a few more years.”
Nowitzki has played 20, 26 and 18 minutes, respectively, in his three games back. He’s made only 8-of-23 field goal attempts while scoring 22 points.
“He’s working extremely hard every single day doing a lot of things,” Carlisle said, “so what I’m saying is, if the goal was just to play the last three games to the best of his abilities, the daily process would be a lot worse, but the long-term prospects wouldn’t be as good.
“In looking at this, I would discourage anybody from putting a lot of stock into the ups and downs that are going to be happening for the next two weeks. This is a time that’s very important. And at some point, he’ll hit a plateau where he’s going to feel like himself again. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. But I think daily analysis of what’s going on is kind of the wrong way to go.”
* Carlisle was asked about the challenge he currently has as a head coach. The Mavericks have not only lost five straight games, they also have been beaten by an average of 18 points.
With Nowitzki early in the process of trying to regain his All-Star form, Carlisle has a tough job of integrating Nowitzki into the lineup while also trying to get the rest of the team to play at a competitive level.
“Every day, you got to see the big picture and see that there are some positives, even though we’ve been losing games,” Carlisle said, “and just stay on the fundamentals and basics and keep preaching about team and sticking together. There’s nothing easy about a losing streak. I’ve been through my share of them. But experience has given me some perspective. I don’t like it. I think it’s something we have to take personally as a group to bust out of.”
* The Spurs were fined $250,000 earlier this month after head coach Gregg Popovich sent four players home instead of playing them in a nationally televised game in Miami.
Despite the severity of the penalty, Popovich said he has not received any word from the league on what he can and can’t do in the future.
“I don’t know what the guidelines are,” Popovich said. “I don’t know how you plan. I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing for 16-17 years, whatever it is. I’m mostly concerned with the health and safety of my players, especially the ones who are a little bit older. And when they need rest, I’m going to give it to them.”
The Spurs were in a stretch of playing four games in five nights and they had won the first three games. So Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home. The Spurs had an important division matchup against Memphis two nights after Miami, so Popovich wanted the players to get rest.
But because the game was on TNT and a marquee matchup against the Heat, the league was upset that the Spurs chose to not be at full strength.
“Like I said, the league hasn’t come out with specific guidelines to follow on resting players or anything like that,” Popovich said. “So I don’t really know what the rules are. But given that we’ve been fined for it, I would assume that they’re probably thinking about it and working on it in some way shape or form. But I haven’t had any conversations with the league about it.”