DALLAS -- Whenever Dirk Nowitzki returns to the basketball court and gets his groove back, he's going to need a trusted sidekick to help him guide the Dallas Mavericks to their 13th consecutive playoff appearance.
For the past eight years, that job belonged to Jason Terry. But the Jet is now on the runway in Boston after signing a free-agent contract with the Celtics last summer.
The apparent new co-pilot who has parachuted into Nowitzki's basketball life is O.J. Mayo. So far he's shown signs that he's capable of picking up where Terry left off.
"I've got to admit I've been surprised," Nowitzki said of Mayo. "I think in preseason he tried to be aggressive, [and] maybe the whole falling down the stairs in Barcelona didn't help when his hand was all messed up.
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"So I don't think he was really in a good shooting rhythm. But he's been playing phenomenal, just stepping into his shot."
The best season Nowitzki and Terry strung together occurred in 2008-09, when the Mavericks' franchise player averaged 25.9 points a game and Terry averaged 19.6 points. Going into Wednesday night's game, Mayo was averaging 21.8 points a game this season while waiting for Nowitzki to recover from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
"Hopefully we can build the same kind of chemistry we had with Jet," Nowitzki said. "That obviously took a while for us to get to the level where we were the last couple of years.
"At the beginning we had some ugly times, we were yelling at each other and just didn't read [plays] well. That's hopefully going to go quick once I get back, but it's going to take some time in games, it's going to take some time in practice."
Mayo, who averages a team-high 14.8 shots per game, is aware that adjustments must be made on his part when Nowitzki returns.
"He's our leader, he's going to be our first option, so I need to continue to keep playing aggressive," Mayo said. "I know Dirk, since I've been here, and he wants you to do what you do.
"He doesn't want you to back off because he's there, but as a ballplayer and [with] common sense, I realize that he is there. At the end of the day I need to just keep playing hard."
At least Nowitzki is already a fan of Mayo's 3-point shots, which Mavericks fans know was a staple of Terry's game.
Mayo converted at least three 3s in seven of the Mavericks' first 12 games, including making at least 50 percent of his attempts in 11 of those games. He also is second in the NBA in 3-point shooting (58.2 percent), and made a career-high seven 3s in 10 attempts in a Nov. 3 game against Charlotte. The next game, against Portland, Mayo was 6 of 8 on 3s.
"It feels like every open 3 is going in [for Mayo]," Nowitzki said. "He's starting to handle the ball more off the screen-and-rolls, crossing guys over, getting in the lane, shooting floaters.
"I mean, he's really playing at a high level and that's definitely been fun to watch."
Nowitzki can envision him and Mayo playing the two-man game in late stages of the game, much as he did with Terry for eight seasons.
"He's been making big shots for us," Nowitzki said. "He obviously showed, even [Monday] [against Golden State], that he wants the ball in big situations. He's not afraid of big situations and of having the ball in his hands.
"If he's aggressive and willing to take it like Jet used to be, obviously we'd love to have him make decisions down the stretch."
Mayo is eager to play alongside Nowitzki. Other than practice, the only time they've been on the court together was the preseason opener against Alba Berlin when Dirk played 34 minutes.
Nowitzki is excited to see whether he and Mayo can team up late in games.
"He can handle the screen-and-roll better than I actually thought he can coming in," Nowitzki said. "He's really looking comfortable crossing and going both ways now, pulling up for the in-between shots.
"So, yeah, we can be the nice combo that me and Jet used to be."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760