Forward twisted left ankle in loss to Nuggets

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki missed the Dallas Mavericks' game against Minnesota on Monday night and will miss several more because of a sprained ankle, adding the team's best player to an already lengthy list of hobbled players.

With Michael Finley among them and Steve Nash now playing in Phoenix, the Mavs were without the trio known as their Big Three for the first time since Dec. 26, 1996. Back then, Dallas was still wallowing in its Three Js era, which ended when Jason Kidd was traded to the Suns for Finley; Nash and Nowitzki arrived for the 1998-99 season and the franchise revival came a few years later.

Nowitzki twisted his left ankle late in the second quarter of a 110-82 loss at Denver on Sunday night. He left the arena on crutches and there were fears that it might be a severe sprain, but after viewing an MRI on Monday, doctors said Nowitzki should be back within seven to 10 days.

A week would keep the three-time All-Star out against the Timberwolves, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies. His projected return is either next Tuesday against San Antonio or two days later against Houston.

"We're kind of pleased with how he was walking today," Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "He will miss some games, not as serious as we thought when he first did it."

Nowitzki is off to his best start in the first season with the team built around his unique inside-outside skills. He leads the team in scoring (25.8), rebounding (10.1) and blocks (1.27). He'd scored over 30 points in four of five games and had 11 against the Nuggets before the injury.

Finley is on the injured list with a sprained ankle, leaving Dallas without its top two scorers.

Jason Terry also has a sprained ankle and Marquis Daniels is still getting over a severe one that kept him out the entire preseason. Erick Dampier is getting over a hip problem. Dampier and Terry missed a game Friday night but returned against Denver.

Calvin Booth replaced Nowitzki as the starting power forward. Alan Henderson, who has gotten most of the minutes as Nowitzki's backup, will see more time than usual, too.

"I think I have ample support at every position except Dirk's," Nelson said. "He's such a special player, he's the one guy we can't lose. We have to rely on the other guys to step up and find a way to win."

Nelson said he went with Booth because his shooting range is closer to Nowitzki's. Booth has been at the back end of Nelson's rotation, playing 10 minutes or less until getting 20 after Nowitzki went down against Denver. He was 1-for-7 against the Nuggets and is 4-of-15 for the season.

"I need him to make some outside shots, which I know he can do," Nelson said. "He hasn't done it yet consistently, but he hasn't played consistently."

Nowitzki has had problems with both ankles. He had surgery two offseasons ago to clean out bone spurs from the ankle that's hurt now and recently had a flareup of bone spurs in the other one.