Coach: Knee is fine, keeps improving

NEWARK, N.J. -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wants everyone to relax. Dirk Nowitzki's progression -- with his knee and his overall conditioning -- remains a process that's right on schedule, the coach said prior to the start of tonight's game at New Jersey.

"His knee is fine and it's improving all the time. He had no issue with it at all in Chicago," Carlisle said. "Where we're at is that was the first back-to-back so that was a challenging situation, and that probably made it a little more difficult for him down the stretch of the game. On the health-front, he is doing great. As I said in Memphis, this is going to be a process of some period of time. We're a week into it."

Nowitzki will play in his fifth game tonight since he sprained his right knee on Dec. 27. He played 37 and 38 minutes, respectively, in the back-to-back games against the Lakers and Bulls, combining to shoot 11-of-31 from the field and 0-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Debate regarding the health of Nowitzki's knee really took off after Charles Barkley suggested on TNT that Nowitzki is laboring and shouldn't be playing. That lit up the talk-sports circuit. However, since his return, both Nowitzki and Carlisle have been direct in acknowledging that it will take the 13-year veteran some time to regain full strength.

"If things keep going in a positive way, which we can see no reason that they won't, another two, three, four games, the hope is that he'll be back to where he was with his health and conditioning," Carlisle said. "That's what we're all looking forward to."