Dirk Nowitzki practices with starters

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki practiced with the Dallas Mavericks' starters Friday for the first time this season, a significant step toward resuming his regular role.

Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle left open the possibility of the Mavs' star power forward making his first start of the season Saturday night against the New Orleans Hornets. Nowitzki, who missed 27 games while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Oct. 19, came off the bench in his first six appearances this season.

"Whether I'm starting or not really doesn't matter," Nowitzki said after Friday's practice. "I guess we'll make that decision tomorrow. We didn't talk about it today."

Nowitzki is coming off his best performance since the operation. He reached season highs in points (19) and minutes (29) during Dallas' 119-109 overtime loss Thursday night to the Miami Heat, highlighted by Nowitzki hitting a game-tying shot with 3.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

While not necessarily up to the standards of a man with a career average of 22.8 points per game, the fact that Nowitzki played that many minutes and finished strong on the second night of a back-to-back was extremely encouraging for the Mavs.

"I felt like the best I've felt out there," said Nowitzki, who has averaged 10.0 points in 22.2 minutes this season. "I don't think the wind is a big deal, or wasn't the last couple of games. It's more the legs and the explosiveness and the push-off and switching directions. So that was the major problem I thought the last 10 days I've been back, or whatever.

"That was the best I've felt, in Miami. So I've got to keep on working, hopefully get 100 percent here sometime soon."

The plan all along was to put Nowitzki in the starting lineup once he built up his stamina. That will happen soon, if not Saturday night.

"We'll let you know," Carlisle said. "It's an important step, but he's got to be ready for it."