Dirk Nowitzki 'not all the way there yet,' but progress continues

DALLAS – Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle advised the media a couple of weeks ago not to judge Dirk Nowitzki’s performance until the middle of January.

Actually, it was more like a demand.

So the fact that Nowitzki’s numbers – 13.3 points per game, 5.0 rebounds, .421 field goal percentage – are the lowest since his rookie season is irrelevant. The Mavs knew not to expect Nowitzki to be in Hall of Fame form when he made his season debut Dec. 23 after barely any practice time following a longer-than-anticipated recovery from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

How long will it be before the dominant version of Dirk shows up? No one can say for certain, but they’re confident that he’s coming.

“Even Dirk will tell you, he’s not ‘Take-over-a-game Dirk’ yet,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. “And when he gets there, we’ll be even better.

“You can just see in his demeanor, and missing some free throws, that he’s not all the way there yet. But he’s doing everything possible to get there.”

The Mavs endured a similar experience with their superstar last season, although he didn’t have surgery and miss a third of the season. He did get off to a painfully slow start, prompting Charles Barkley to declare a victory for Father Time and the Mavs to force Nowitzki to sit out four games to focus on conditioning, an issue after he admittedly was caught off guard by the lockout’s abrupt end and his knee started swelling.

Nowitzki hit rock bottom after his return from that personal minicamp, scoring eight points on 2-of-15 shooting in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. From that point on, he pretty much returned to the norm, averaging 21.6 points per game for the season and 26.8 in the Mavs’ lone playoff series.

Nowitzki, who came off the bench and had his minutes carefully managed in the first six games of the season, reports that his right knee feels fine. He’s starting to get his legs under him, having played more than 30 minutes in five of the last six games.

Nowitzki has yet to score more than 20 points in a game this season. He had only 10 in Monday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, but a few of his five buckets offered especially encouraging signs. One was a pretty, spinning, one-legged fadeaway in the lane that was classic Dirk. He also had a couple of layups on fast breaks, evidence that his stamina is building, even though he self-effacingly describes his sprint as a trot.

“Not bad,” Nowitzki said. “When I started December 23, it was rough. My wind was not there and the movement just wasn’t there.

“I think I’ve been working. So I’ve gotten better over the last three weeks, just trying to help in pick-and-roll coverages, moving my feet and stuff. It can still get better, but I feel fine out there. I’ve been playing over 30 minutes. I’ll keep on working.”

Carlisle’s mid-January progress report: "I don't think that he's 100 percent in top condition yet, but he's getting closer. He's much closer than he was two weeks ago or three weeks ago.”