Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki will sit out the next four games to engage in a week of behind-the-scenes conditioning work to strengthen his sore right knee starting with Saturday's visit to the New Orleans Hornets, coach Rick Carlisle announced.
Carlisle said Nowitzki needs "an uninterrupted eight days of work to resolve some physical issues and conditioning issues." He emphasized that the break is designed to help Nowitzki, who is expected to return Jan. 29 against San Antonio, get into better game shape.
The Mavs coach said Nowitzki would prefer to keep playing but coaches and training staff decided it would be better for the team if he is restricted from game activity for the next week. Carlisle stressed that "this is not a rest situation" but "quite the opposite."
"I wasn't thrilled at the beginning," Nowitzki said. "We talked about it yesterday in the meeting and I just thought it was a good decision for everybody. I think I'm not helping right now anyway and the guys are better off if I'm not out there, so it just gives me time to really do some of the stuff that I couldn't be doing. My knee was bothering me the last couple of weeks. I couldn't lift or run and do the stuff I needed to do because my knee was swollen most of the time. So this week my knee feels better and this actually gives me some time to lift and really get back where I should be, and I look forward to coming back."
Nowitzki, historically one of the most regimented workers in the league, has not shied away from the fact that he is not in typical game condition. On Wednesday, he said a combination of last season's run to the championship, followed by playing for Germany in the Olympic qualifying tournament in late summer and then a long layoff are at the root of his knee problem.
"It's just getting back in the groove," Nowitzki said. "We didn't have the training camp that we wanted to. After the Euros [the Olympic qualifying tournament last summer] I was just sick of basketball, but I probably took too long of a time off, so it's going to take me a while to get back into it. But, [his knee's] a lot better than it was three weeks ago, so that's encouraging and we'll keep on working."
Nowitzki added that in hindisight, playing for the German national team was a a bad idea and that he should have taken time away from basketball.
"Playing in the Euros, looking back now was obviously not the right decision, but it was a decision I made for my country," Nowitzki said. "But it definitely didn't help me get ready for the season. So I started working out basically late November, then I had a good three weeks or a month for five, six games a week, so it wasn't cutting it. I consider this week here, for me, as another week of training camp where I can use it and get better. Got a little fire back; a lot of guys say I'm done. I obviously read the stuff. Hopefully, I'll be back soon."
Nowitzki acknowledged Wednesday night that the knee, the same one he sprained last season and forced him to miss nine games (where the Mavs went 2-7), has caused him problems with movement, although he said it felt better now than it did three weeks ago.
"You saw it. I couldn't go by anybody off the dribble and that's part of my game," nowitzki said. "Right now is just basically a pop-up shooter every time I caught it, and if I didn't have it [a shot] I had to swing it because I just couldn't make a move, couldn't go by anybody and just didn't feel comfortable."
As recently as late Friday afternoon, Carlisle said there were no plans to rest Nowitzki, although he said no options were off the table.
"We haven't written anything off as a possibility. We monitor everything very closely," Carlisle told ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Galloway & Co. "We sat Jason Kidd down for a week and that was something that's hard to do because that guy's been a major anchor for us and we found a way to grind out some wins. We'll leave any possibility open as a possibility, but going forward we think we're going to be fine."
Nowitzki is averaging just 17.5 points, his lowest average since his second season in 1999-2000, on 45.6 percent shooting. He is shooting just 23.5 percent from 3-point range. Nowitzki scored just 12 points in Thursday's win at Utah and looked to be physically struggling.
After going 6-of-18 from the field for 17 points Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Nowitzki addressed the issues with his knee and his conditioning.
"I'm having trouble bending my knees," said Nowitzki, who has been wearing a protective sleeve over the knee since early in the season. "I've just got to get my legs stronger, get my base back. I've got to use my legs in my shot and hopefully they'll come back soon."
The Mavs are now without their leading scorer and their second-leading scorer off the bench in Vince Carter, who sprained his left foot Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers and is out indefinitely.
Lamar Odom is likely to see his minutes increased. Averaging just 7.1 points a game on 33.3 percent shooting in 20.6 minutes, the struggling forward might be on his way toward turning a corner. He has scored in double figures in two of the last three games and was 4-of-5 from the floor Thursday night in the win at Utah.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.