Dirk Nowitzki improves as injuries mount

DALLAS -- The Western Conference is besieged by key injuries. Two of the Dallas Mavericks' upcoming opponents were hit hard Monday night. Wednesday's opponent, the Denver Nuggets, lost leading scorer Danilo Gallinari to a fractured ankle. The Los Angles Clippers, in town next week, fear Chauncey Billups could miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.

The list is long: Oklahoma City backup point guard Eric Maynor is out for the season. San Antonio's Manu Ginobili continues to sit with a broken hand. Memphis lost Darrell Arthur for the season and Zach Randolph is still out with a knee injury.

Of course, Dallas has not been immune. Vince Carter missed five games, Jason Kidd will likely miss his 10th game over two injury stints on Wednesday at Denver, and Dirk Nowitzki appears to be returning to form after a four-game hiatus.

The Mavs might be in the best of shape of the aforementioned teams, needing only Kidd to return -- and that will be soon if not imminent --to be back to full strength.

Nowitzki said Monday that his progress is coming more rapidly now, but he's not out of the woods just yet.

"I came out of halftime [at Cleveland] and was a little stiff, shot like 0-for-5," Nowitzki said. "Next thing you know, we were down eight or down 10. There’s always room to improve, room to get better."

Nowitzki again showed he's gaining confidence in his troublesome right knee when he took Cavs forward Antawn Jamison off the dribble and converted at the rim.

"I’m definitely getting better, moving better, I thought, finally being able to put the ball a little bit on the floor again, getting to the basket some," Nowitzki said. "That was a big part of my game the last couple of years. When people take my jump shot away I’ve got to be able to get to the basket some, make some moves."

Remarkably, as Nowitzki's game has finally taken off the last two games with 30 and 24 points on a combined 21-of-32 shooting, the Mavs' offense has backfired. After scoring more than 100 points in three consecutive games, Dallas has slowed to 86, 87 and 88 points in three consecutive losses.

"I’m getting more confident in my ability to move again. That’s big, but it doesn’t help if we lose," Nowitzki said. "Either way, we’ve got to find a way to all play at a high level. If I’m playing better now, we can’t have other guys go down. It’s got to be collectively playing well, especially defensively and rebounding and get back to doing some of the stuff we were doing when we were winning."