Mavs get Howard back on court

MINNEAPOLIS -- Josh Howard is returning to the Dallas Mavericks just in time for the playoff push.

The former All-Star was in the starting lineup against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night after an 11-game absence because of a sore left ankle.

His return is a huge boost for a team that is trying to distance itself from Phoenix in the Western Conference playoff race. The Mavericks started the day with a 3½-game lead over the Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"Having him back should be a positive for us," coach Rick Carlisle said before the game.

Howard hasn't played since March 5 and has missed a total of 28 games this season with various injuries. In 45 games, Howard is averaging 18.0 points, third on the team, and 4.9 rebounds.

"He's one of our best slashers and best drivers of the ball and one of our best runners," Carlisle said.

The coach said the plan is to ease Howard back into things, and with nine games left, the Mavericks have time to get him ready for the playoffs and recapture the on-court chemistry with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the rest of the team.

"He's been through this a couple times now, so he's familiar with it and we're familiar with it," Carlisle said, later adding that Howard "has played with a veteran group, guys that know what he can and can't do. They're going to have to help him work back into it."

While the Mavericks got some good news, the bad news keeps coming for the Timberwolves.

Guard Randy Foye (hip) and forward Craig Smith (calf) missed their second straight game, robbing the team of two of its better offensive players.

With Foye, who is averaging 16.3 points and 4.3 assists, and Al Jefferson out, the Timberwolves are missing their top two scorers. Smith is averaging 9.6 points and 3.7 rebounds.

With just eight games remaining in a season that has long been over for the Wolves, coach Kevin McHale was asked if Foye might be held out for the rest of the year.

"He'll come back and play some," McHale said.

Both Foye and Smith are listed as day to day.