DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks opened the season in full championship hangover, losing their first three games and four of five.
Star forward Dirk Nowitzki was sidelined a week because of knee swelling and conditioning issues.
It was no way to begin the defense of an NBA title.
But the Mavericks showed the grit and determination that helped them make history last season and ended the first half of the season looking like title contenders again.
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The Mavericks won nine of the past 10 games going into Wednesday's matchup against the Lakers.
Guard Jason Kidd said if the team carries the same fight into the second half of the season they will be right where they need to be when the playoffs start.
"The first half has been up and down," Kidd said. "We will take the up in the sense of finishing up on a positive note.
"We started out of the blocks real slow. But we are still fighting and still playing good basketball."
Kidd said the reason the Mavericks are in good shape is because Nowitzki is playing like a superstar again.
Nowitzki averaged 15 points a game in January but is scoring 25.4 points game over the past 10.
"He is one of the top players in the league," Kidd said. "With the lockout, it put a halt on his routine and we know he likes his routine."
Forward Lamar Odom's disappointing turn with the Mavericks took another curious twist when he was excused from Wednesday's game to attend a family matter.
Coach Rick Carlisle said Odom will rejoin the team after the All-Star break.
It's ironic that the situation arose just before a matchup against the Lakers, a team he played for the past seven years before being traded to the Mavs in a salary purge before the season.
Odom, NBA sixth man of the year last season, admitted hurt and disappointment in leaving the Lakers. He has struggled since joining the Mavs, averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds a game. He shot 3 of 14 the last two games.
Mavericks guard Delonte West can't wait to get back from a broken right finger.
He is expected to miss four to six weeks after having the finger surgically repaired Friday.
Though disappointed he can't be out there for his teammates, West said he will do everything to get back as fast as he can.
He hopes to have the pins removed later this week and then begin intensive rehab after the All-Star break.
"Everything is going great," West said. "They said I should be back in four to six weeks. I will be back before you guys know it.
"I'm left-handed, so that's not preventing me from doing the shooting drills, conditioning. I'm taking it all in stride."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.