The belt beginning to pay off for Dirk Nowitzki

Putting on the belt that’s attached to the bungee-like cord has become part of Dirk Nowitzki’s post-practice routine.

With strength coach Robert Hackett or equipment manager Al Whitley holding on to the other end of the cord, Nowitzki goes through a jumping program. He grabs the rim a set and slaps the glass a certain number of times. It’s not exactly a display of jaw-dropping athleticism.

“I don’t work on it so I can go out there and dunk on people,” Nowitzki said. “I work on it to get my legs back under my jump shot.”

It’s working.

Nowitzki’s numbers this season (14.8 ppg, .425 FG) aren’t pretty, but there’s been significant progress recently. He had his best performance of the season Tuesday night in Portland, scoring a dozen of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. That came as no surprise.

Nowitzki, who isn’t one to fake optimism, said after the previous two games that he felt much more spring in his shot. He averaged 17.5 points on 13-of-28 shooting while the Mavs split games against the Spurs and Suns following a four-day layoff.

“I think it’s getting better and better from game to game,” Nowitzki said. “I had a little more hops on my jump shot. That gives me more time, obviously, and I don’t have to rush my shot as much. I put the ball on the floor some, did some spin moves, some stuff I used to do.

“So I’m encouraged. I was very discouraged the first couple of weeks, but now it’s starting to feel better and I’m starting to see improvement. I’ve got to keep on doing my stuff, keep on working and ultimately obviously help win games when I’m out there.”

Unfortunately for Nowitzki, he had a similar slow start last season, although it’s even more frustrating this year after missing the first 27 games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. After the lockout, Nowitzki averaged 16.2 points on .430 shooting in his first 19 games. He returned to his norm the rest of the season, averaging 24.0 points on .467 shooting.

With the work he’s putting in, it’s a pretty good bet that Nowitzki will leap back to being a 20-plus-point scorer the rest of this season.