Dirk returns to Mavs starting lineup against Warriors

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks planned to be without injured Dirk Nowitzki for Wednesday night's pivotal game against Golden State, but he made a surprising return to the starting lineup.

The Mavs weren't counting on Nowitzki returning to the team even after the reigning MVP went through the morning shootaround.

But he did return and the Mavs benefited. He hit only 6-of-15 shots and had 18 points in 27 minutes, but Dallas routed Golden State 111-86.

Nowitzki wanted to get back during the playoff race, but is still having problems with his left ankle when he tries to stop hard or make quick moves.

"The work today wasn't great," Nowitzki said after the shootaround. "I'm still sore in a couple of movements."

The Mavs began to have hope Nowitzki would play Wednesday when the team upgraded his status to day-to-day following his 45-minute workout Tuesday.

"I've got to be pain-free. If I can't move out there and cut and try to defend and move my feet, it really doesn't make any sense to try to get out there," Nowitzki said. "Just hobbling around wouldn't help anybody. I would rather have somebody out there that can go and give 100 percent."

Nowitzki sprained his left ankle and knee March 23. He said his knee is fine.

Coach Avery Johnson said the Mavericks planned to be without Nowitzki against the Warriors.

"We know 70 or 80 percent of Dirk is still pretty good, but we don't want to put him out there if he's in any danger," Johnson said. "Sometimes it's better to have a little bit lesser talented guy that's 100 percent than having a superstar that just can't move at all."

The Mavs'Jason Terry indicated after the shootaround that he expects Dirk to play.

"Everyone is very optimistic," Terry said. "You get the MVP out there, it's all smiles."

Whatever happens, Nowitzki does not expect to be anywhere close to 100 percent. "If I wait until I'm 100 percent, the regular season will be over," he said. "If I can run without limping and take off on [my left] foot, I can go."

Dallas will definitely be without Jerry Stackhouse, who has a groin injury. Johnson said Stackhouse had an MRI and would be out at least a week.

The Mavericks (46-28) went into Wednesday night's game in seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Denver (46-29) and a game ahead of Golden State (45-29). The top eight teams make the playoffs. Dallas and Golden State each have seven games left after Wednesday.

With the regular season winding down, Nowitzki is eager to play.

"I try to come back usually around 85 to 90 [percent] and I know I can be confident in my movement," Nowitzki said. "I don't think I'm quite at 85, but given the situation we're in, basically tied with three teams for the playoffs, I might have to come back a little earlier."

The Mavericks play at the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday and at Phoenix on Sunday.

Nowitzki didn't know when he will return, but knows he will have to play through some pain and soreness eventually.

"I think if I wait until I'm 100 percent, I think the regular season will be over," he said. "But like I said, I don't want to play where it really slows me down."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN NBA reporter Ric Bucher was used in this report.