Dirk Nowitzki won't return to Mavs until Dec. 18 at earliest

DALLAS -- Don't look for Dirk Nowitzki to play a basketball game against an opposing team until mid-December at the earliest -- or maybe even later than that.

That's what the Dallas Mavericks' 11-time All-Star forward said Tuesday afternoon at American Airlines Center.

Nowitzki underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery on Oct. 19 and was expected to start on-court basketball activities six weeks later or Nov. 30. Now he's not sure if that's going to happen on that date.

"It's just a slow process," Nowitzki said. "I think there's good days and there's bad days.

"That's normal in rehab, and you just have to take it in stride and keep going. Like I said originally, I'm always a fast healer, so when I heard I'm doing this rehab, in my head I'm thinking I'm playing in two, three weeks, but it just didn't work that way."

Nowitzki has already missed 12 games, and according to his own timetable, he could miss an additional 12 games. The 7-footer could return in time for the Dec. 18 home game against the Philadelphia 76ers, but even that's not a guaranteed return date.

Nowitzki's long-awaited return may not be until the Mavs host Denver on Dec. 28, which means the Mavs' franchise player would miss an additional 17 games from today.

"I need to make sure everything's right before I come back -- I can't rush," Nowitzki said. "I'm hoping maybe after these two years to play a couple more years, so it would be the wrong thing now to push it and come back too early and maybe make something worse for the long term.

"So it's been learning to be patient the last couple weeks. It's not my favorite thing to do, but I've just got to hang in there and stay positive and try to help the team wherever I can off the floor and talk to them in timeouts and try to help wherever I can."

Going into tonight's 7:30 game at American Airlines Center against the New York Knicks, the Mavs are just 6-6 without Nowitzki, who has yet to play a game this season.

"Dirk will get there, and we know he'll be back at some point," coach Rick Carlisle said. "...For right now, we've got to press forward with the guys that we have."

Kidd returns to AAC

One of the biggest questions around the AAC is what type of reception Knicks guard Jason Kidd will receive tonight from Mavs fans.

Kidd spent the past four seasons with the Mavs and was a key cog when they captured the 2011 NBA title. Kidd even agreed to sign a three-year, $9 million free agent contract to return to the Mavs this past summer.

But at the last minute, Kidd changed his mind and signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Knicks, which infuriated owner Mark Cuban and a lot of Mavs fans.

When asked if he thought Kidd would receive a great reception tonight, coach Rick Carlisle said, "I do. Why wouldn't he? He's going to get a great reception from the fans."

Carlisle is indebted to Kidd for helping him win his only NBA championship as a coach.

"He left on great terms with me," Carlisle said. "I was super appreciative of everything he did for me and our organization when he was here.

"Guys at that point in their career -- they have the right to do what they want to do, and so I can only wish him the best. I can't speak to the other aspects of it."

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice