DALLAS — The major plus for the Dallas Mavericks that evolved from Sundays disappointing 103-99 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was the superb performance turned in by forward Dirk Nowitzki.In his best game this season, Nowitzki finished with season highs in points (30), rebounds (13) and 3-pointers (four). He also tied his season high in steals (three) and field goals made (11).It was a major step forward for the 11-time All-Star, who underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery on Oct. 19.Im just working my way back into it, and I feel good now, said Nowitzki, who played 39 minutes against the Lakers. Obviously I put in a lot of work since I came back extra sessions, extra shooting, extra jumps and lifting.So its been a long road back. Even down the stretch [Sunday] my legs were good.Nowitzki, who plans to play at least through the 2015-16 season, has been experiencing a steady increase in productivity. Over his last five games, the 16-year veteran has averaged 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field (39 of 75) and 71.4 percent from 3-point range (10 of 14).Look at his last several games, coach Rick Carlisle said. Hes playing great, hes playing at that high standard level.I dont want to play him 38-and-a-half minutes or whatever. But with national TV and long timeouts, he looked like he was fresher and I think thats also a good sign going forward.Another good sign is that Carlisle is now playing Nowitzki for nine-minute stretches instead of the five- to six-minute stints he played in his first game of the season on Dec. 23. He wound up 11 of 19 from the field and 4 of 4 from 3-point territory against the Lakers.That was a big stage [against the Lakers] and thats what he is and thats what he does, center Elton Brand said. He hit those shots and he felt good out there hitting those boards.Thats what we expect of him and thats what helps give us a chance because hes such a great player.Fisher signs with the ThunderThe Mavs probably did a double-take Monday after learning point guard Derek Fisher signed a contract for the rest of the season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.Fisher signed a free-agent contract with the Mavs on Nov. 29, and then played and started nine games before asking the team to release him, supposedly because he was homesick and missed his family in Southern California.But now, 65 days after leaving the Mavs, Fisher is back with the Thunder, who he played with during the latter half of the 2011-12 season.By the way, the Mavs were floundering with a 12-15 record when they waived Fisher, while the Thunder is now 41-15 and in first place in the Northwest Division.Loss to Lakers stings twofoldThe loss to the Lakers on Sunday was doubly painful for the Mavs because it came against a team thats in front of them in the West standings. It also could have long-term ramifications when the playoff invitations are handed out.They all feel painful and costly to me, Rick Carlisle said of Sundays loss. They all count the same in the win-loss column.When youre going head-to-head theyre more meaningful because of the tie-breaker and all that kind of stuff.Question of effortA reporter asked forward Vince Carter if he felt like the Mavs put their best effort out on the court Sunday against the Lakers.What kind of question is that? Of course, Carter said. If thats the case, we would have gotten blown out.We go out here to win games, we need to win games. We know if we dont win games, we dont make the playoffs. I think that was an obvious answer.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice