Nowitzki has good shot at returning to Mavericks' starting lineup Saturday

DALLAS -- After the way he played the past two games, Dirk Nowitzki's days as a $21 million-a-year reserve could end as soon as Saturday when the Dallas Mavericks host the New Orleans Hornets.

Nowitzki has played six games since returning from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. And the past two games were his most impressive performances of the six games.

In Tuesday's 103-94 victory at Washington, Nowitzki played 17 minutes and had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. And the next night in Miami, Nowitzki played a season-high 29 minutes and scored a season-high 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting.

So, is coach Rick Carlisle ready to put Nowitzki back at his customary spot in the starting lineup at power forward?

"I guess we'll take that game by game," Nowitzki said. "We have two days off now until the next game, and we'll see how I feel by Saturday.

"But I guess that's a decision that Coach and I are going to make together on the day of the game. I'm going to start again here maybe in a week or so and get my minutes back up and we'll go from there."

Carlisle has a reputation of not releasing the names of his starters until 16 minutes before tipoff. And he sure won't violate his own rule in regard to Nowitzki.

"Dirk's doing better every game and every day he's progressing," Carlisle said. "That continues to be a promising situation, so we'll keep moving forward with that."

Nowitzki said he's feeling good and is ready to take his game to the next level.

"It was really ugly when I first came back," said Nowitzki, who played his first game on Dec. 23 in San Antonio. "I was two steps slow to everything and I had no lift.

"I worked extremely hard over the last couple of weeks, and sometimes ran after games and did some stuff after practices and I feel like I've got a little more pep in my step again."

Overall, Nowitzki is averaging 10 points and 4.3 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game. He also is 23 of 56 from the field (41.1 percent), including 6 of 15 (40 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.

"I'm going to keep on working," Nowitzki said, "and try to help this team more."

Understanding the long-term ramifications of Nowitzki's return, neither he nor Carlisle wanted him to rush back to the court, even though the Mavs were sliding toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

"We all understood this was not going to be a simply easy deal," Carlisle said. "The progress has been gradually going the right way and that's what we got to keep working toward.

"He's got a great spirit for a guy that's one of the top 10 or 12 [players] that ever played. He knows we need him and that's why he's out there."

No Chandler

Center Chris Kaman doesn't want anyone confusing him with Tyson Chandler, who patrolled the middle of the Mavericks' defensive wall two years ago while helping Dallas capture the 2011 NBA title.

But Kaman has become a personal swat machine the past two games when he picked up three blocks Tuesday against Washington and another three blocks Wednesday against Miami. Chandler, of course, was known for protecting the rim at all cost in his one season with the Mavs.

"I don't like to compare myself to Tyson," Kaman said. "I think I'm a completely different player than he is.

"But I need to be a better anchor for the defense, I need to do a better job, and I'm capable of doing it. I have to keep it in my head and keep myself focused and alert and ready to come out there and help whenever I can."

Kaman has as many blocked shots over the past two games as he had during his previous 14 games. In 15 games in December, Kaman produced only nine blocks, but he already has six blocks in January.

OT meltdown

A few weeks ago, Dirk Nowitzki said the Mavericks' basketball IQ went down when Jason Kidd decided to take his talents to New York to play for the Knicks. Perhaps that lack of basketball IQ could be the reason the Mavericks are 0-6 in overtime games this season.

Indecision on who to get the ball to and how to set that person up has played a role in the Mavericks' lack of execution.

"The last couple of years we knew each other so well and we had a point guard in Jason Kidd who is one of the smartest out there," Nowitzki said. "I think it's going to take us a little more time together to figure our game situations out."

Dating to last season, the Mavericks have lost nine consecutive overtime games.


If he has his way, Mike James will eventually make his way onto the Mavericks' roster.

The Mavericks' NBA Development League franchise -- the Texas Legends -- signed James to a contract. And the 37-year-old guard is hoping to use his time with the Legends as an opportunity to play for the Mavericks.

Since starting his pro basketball career in 1996, James certainly has been on a whirlwind journey. He has played for 10 NBA teams, for teams in four foreign countries, and also in the United States Basketball League, Continental Basketball League and the D-League.

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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