It’s pretty easy to forgive a 3-of-14 shooting night when there was legitimate reason to fear that Nowitzki wouldn’t get up any shots Wednesday evening. When Nowitzki limped off the floor and into the locker room 54 seconds into the game, nobody knew how long the face of the Mavs franchise would miss.
It ended up being a matter of only minutes until Nowitzki re-entered the game later in the first quarter with a fresh tape job on his left ankle.
"I just rolled my ankle for probably the 200th time in my career," Nowitzki joked to reporters after the Mavs managed to pull out an 87-78 win over the Washington Wizards despite his off night. “I walked it off and got it retaped, popped some pills and came back out and tried to finish the game."
The rolled ankle affected Nowitzki against the Wizards, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury that should cause any significant further concern. Nowitzki, who finished the game with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, is notorious for having rubber ankles that recover incredibly well after being twisted and turned in manners not intended for human ankles.
His estimate of 200 times is obviously an exaggeration but is at least the 10th known ankle sprain of Nowitzki’s 16-year NBA career. Those injuries have caused him to miss a total of only 16 games. This marks at least the fourth time that Nowitzki didn’t miss any games after an ankle roll that caused him to leave the floor.
"It speaks to his toughness that he just always keeps coming back when he’s hurt and playing because he knows how important he is to us," coach Rick Carlisle told reporters following the Mavs' finish of a sweep of their three-game road trip. "This was a really, really important game for us."
Perhaps the sore ankle hampered Nowitzki’s mobility a bit -- we’ll pass on the easy punch line about it being hard to tell -- but it’s not as though he looked too hesitant against the Wizards. He created a handful of his shot attempts off the dribble, using his routine pump fake to get the defender off his feet before putting the ball on the floor.
Dirk just couldn’t get the ball to go down and said he struggled to get lift on his jumper, contributing to a game so ugly overall (with sub-40 shooting percentages for both teams) that he cracked about it setting the league back a couple of years.
"He hung in there," Carlisle told reporters. "It was a tough night shooting the ball, but his presence is a game-changer for us."
Nowitzki’s absence would be a season-changer, as the Mavs painfully confirmed when he missed the first 27 games last season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Fortunately, that’s not a concern now. The Mavs survived a minor scare and a miserable shooting night from their 35-year-old superstar.