DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki says he is much better after missing the past three games because of a sore right knee and poor conditioning.
However, he will not play against the Utah Jazz tonight and there is no guarantee he will return Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs as originally expected.
"I feel better," Nowitzki said. "I think it was definitely a good week for me to work on some stuff that I wasn't able to work on when I had some trouble with my knee. So that's definitely good. We lifted a lot, ran some, shot some. Well, we were always shooting for Sunday, so we'll just take it day by day and see how these next two days of training go and keep pushing myself, twice a day. But that's where my head is, hopefully Sunday, and we'll go from there."
Nowitzki said he can do without questions about him coming into the season out of shape, as coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban suggested as reasons for his early-season woes and the team's decision to shut him down for a week.
"No, I don't know why coach threw that out there," Nowitzki bristled when asked about his conditioning. "I didn't have any problem with conditioning at all. You can never work hard enough on conditioning, but that wasn't holding me back."
Asked if he was disappointed that Carlisle "threw that out there," Nowitzki said, "No, not at all. I don't really care what the media writes, anyway. You saw on my jump shot I had no lift, shot most of them straight-legged. Had no air time. This week I really focused on getting my legs under my shot again and bending down and getting low and getting the right base."
Carlisle said Nowitzki has made significant progress over the past week, but added that no determination has been made for his return.
He also didn't back down when asked if lack of conditioning contributed to Nowitzki's sore knee and early struggles during a stretch when he rarely resembled the MVP of last year's NBA Finals.
"It was what I said last Saturday, which was just some physical issues that needed to be resolved," Carlisle said. "Physical, like the body. The knee was a part of it. Conditioning's part of it."
Nowitzki didn't like suggestions that he was out of shape, but might have added fuel to the fire by blaming his knee problems on wear and tear from the long championship run followed by the European championships. He then took off two months, and the sudden end to the NBA lockout and packed early schedule proved to be too much.
"Hopefully, I'll be back to normal here when I come off this break," he said.
Forward Vince Carter celebrated his 35th birthday Thursday by returning to practice for the first time since Jan. 16 in hopes of playing tonight against the Utah Jazz.
Carter, who has missed five games with a sprained foot, said he has made a lot of progress over the past couple of days. He said a final determination will be made after today's shoot-around.
"The shoot-around is important for me, just to get out there and get moving and see if I can get the thumbs up," he said.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.