Dirk Nowitzki unsure about return

DALLAS -- Originally scheduled to miss only four games with a sore right knee, Dallas Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki could possibly be out longer, he said Thursday.

Nowitzki, who will miss his fourth game against the Utah Jazz on Friday, spoke to the media for the first time since being sidelined and said he's making progress. Nowitzki said a decision on his return will be made closer to game time before Sunday's matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.

Coach Rick Carlisle said Nowitzki has spent the week mostly working off the court to strengthen the knee and improve his overall conditioning. Nowitzki said he focused heavily on weightlifting and running, and on the court focused on bending his knees and getting his legs back under his shot.

"I feel better. I think it was definitely a good week for me to work on some stuff that I wasn't able to work on when I had some trouble with my knee," Nowitzki said. "We were always shooting for Sunday, so we'll just take it day by day and see how these next two days of training go and keep pushing myself, twice a day. But that's where my head is, hopefully Sunday, and we'll go from there."

Meanwhile, reserve swingman Vince Carter said he's made surprising progress over the last two days, which might enable him to return from a sprained left foot for Friday's game against the Jazz.

Carter, who turned 35 on Thursday, practiced with the team for the first time since twisting his foot after taking the final shot in a 73-70 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 16. Carter is the Mavs' second-leading scorer off the bench, averaging 9.5 points and the team's top 3-point shooter at 44.4 percent.

Carter said he will go through Friday morning's shootaround and determine if he's ready to return after missing five games.

Nowitzki said this week-long training camp of sorts was strictly about strengthening his knee and not about his overall conditioning. Carlisle reiterated Thursday that he deemed this a week for Nowitzki to work out "some physical issues that needed to be resolved; physical, like the body. The knee was a part of it, conditioning's part of it."

Nowitzki seemed slightly irritated that his overall conditioning was in question and not simply his bothersome right knee.

"No, I don't know why coach threw that out there," Nowitzki said. "I didn't have any problem with conditioning at all. You can never work hard enough on conditioning, but that wasn't holding me back."

Mavs owner Mark Cuban tried to clarify during his Friday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Ben and Skin Show."

"His knee hurts because he didn't have the time to prepare," Cuban said. "When you don't have the time to prepare, you're not conditioned to play the way you're accustomed to.

"So it's not like he was a fat slob. It's like anything else. The older you get, the more prepared you have [to be], particularly when you're Dirk, when you have a very definitive process you go through every summer. When you can't do that, you're not going to be in position to play your best basketball."

Nowitzki said he's not concerned about a long-term knee issue and he repeated his belief that a longer-than-usual break from his offseason training regimen, exacerbated by the hastened start of a two-week training camp and then an onslaught of games that started Dec. 25, left the knee vulnerable.

"This is all about me getting my body right, getting my leg stronger, getting my base back," Nowitzki said. "You saw on my jump shot. I had no lift, shot most of them straight-legged, had no air time."

No matter the primary issue, the Mavs (11-8) need their star player healthy and producing on the floor. Nowitzki said his sore knee limited his ability to bend it while shooting and severely hampered him from making moves that have become a significant part of his offensive arsenal, such as putting the ball on the floor and driving to either side.

"When your knee's swelling, you lose confidence a little bit and you don't do those moves as hard as you want to," Nowitzki said. "Sometimes in a game you'd rather swing it before you even try it. This week is a mental week, too, where you push yourself to make those moves, even though it might be a little sore or a little stiff. That's what it's all about. You've got to gain some confidence back in your body and the ability. It's definitely a great week for me to get some work in."

Nowitzki said he has confidence that when he does return -- either Sunday or some time after -- he will bounce back to his old form. He was averaging 17.5 points, his lowest scoring average since his second season, on 45.6 percent shooting and just 23.5 percent from beyond the arc.

The Mavs, who went 2-7 without Nowitzki last season after he sprained the same knee, won their first two against New Orleans and Phoenix before the Minnesota Timberwolves ended Dallas' three-game overall win and seven-game home win streak Wednesday night, 105-90.

"The progress has been significant," Carlisle said. "Look, we're going day to day and we're keeping a close eye on it. There's been no final determination yet, as he said. We'll see what's what when we get to Saturday or Sunday."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.