Dirk Nowitzki: I'm close to returning

Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki still doesn't know the exact date that he will return from a sprained right knee. He just knows it will be soon.

Nowitzki went through his most strenuous workout Friday since suffering the injury Dec. 27 and remains optimistic that he will play at some point during this four-game road trip.

"I'm actually really close," Nowitzki told ESPN's Ric Bucher in an interview during the Mavs' 101-89 loss in San Antonio. "For the first time this morning, I actually did some contact stuff. This whole time before, we did mostly noncontact stuff, mostly cardio and, so I'm getting closer. I don't know which game exactly. We've got a game tomorrow and we've got a game Monday, so hopefully on this trip.

"It's already a lot better. A couple of movements here and there, a couple of jumps give me a little trouble still. You know, it's been tough watching."

Dallas next visits the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. It wraps up the four-game road trip Monday afternoon at the Detroit Pistons.

The Mavericks are 24-6 with Nowitzki in the lineup and have lost seven of nine games without him. The Spurs, owners of the league's best record at 34-6, have opened a seven-game bulge on Dallas.

Nowitzki has never missed this many games in any of his previous 12 seasons. He acknowledged that it's been difficult to watch, especially after the Mavs lost Caron Butler to a season-ending knee injury.

"I think I should be fine here in the next couple of days," Nowitzki said. "It took a little longer than I hoped and we all expected, but at least hopefully I'll be back soon."

After Friday's loss, the Mavs' fourth straight, coach Rick Carlisle offered the real first statement that Nowitzki could be ready for Saturday night's game at Memphis, although he did so with a qualifier.

"He worked out hard today and we have to see how he feels [Saturday]," Carlisle said. [Saturday] could be a possibility, but then again maybe not. We can't mess with that. And so that's kind of where we are."

If the situation wasn't dire enough for the Mavericks, ailing center Tyson Chandler missed Friday morning's shootaround.

Chandler, who has a fever and sore throat, nevertheless was on the court Friday night against the Spurs. He scored eight points and grabbed two rebounds in 16 minutes of play.

"I've got to [play]," Chandler said as he dressed for pregame warm-ups.

Chandler, who has been plagued with injuries the last two seasons, said Thursday that no matter how bad things may seem at the moment, Nowitzki can't rush his return.

"I want him to be 100 percent before he comes back," Chandler said. "The thing is you don't want to rush anything. I've been there. I've rushed. I've been on the sideline and been in the same situation, watched my team lose, watched my team suffer, and then try to jump back out there and before you know it something else is bothering you. We need him for the long haul.

"I would much rather have him down the stretch when it counts."