PORTLAND, Ore. – Dirk Nowitzki won’t return to game action tonight against the Blazers, but his comeback from a strained right Achilles is near.
And when it happens – perhaps Friday at the Los Angeles Clippers or after Christmas at New Orleans – it will be a slow, gradual process.
Nowitzki said after the Mavericks’ shootaround at Moda Center that he is eager to begin knocking off the rust.
“It feels a lot better,” he said. “I’ll probably get a good workout tonight and see how it responds. I’ll probably get my first practice (Thursday) and see how it feels, basically go from day to day. It’s been encouraging. It hasn’t gotten worse from some of the stuff we’ve been doing. Hopefully, I’ll be out there soon.”
He said he’s not targeting any specific game for his return. But how his Achilles responds after the practice Thursday in LA will go a long way toward determining whether he plays in the last game before Christmas.
“I haven’t done some of the stuff I need to do to practice, some of the full-on cutting, pushing off,” he said. “We’ll see how that goes. I’d love to play as soon as I can. But we’ll see in the next couple days.”
This will be the 22nd game Nowitzki has missed because of the injury, including the last 15 in a row.
“If you would have told me when this happened in the first game of the season that I’d still be out at Christmas, I’d have said you’re out of your mind,” he said. “But it’s one of these things where you have to be patient. I came back maybe a little too early and hurt it again in Cleveland. I just took it really slow after that. I didn’t want to come back too early again and start the whole process over and deal with it all season long. We’re trying to make sure this is not going to come back for the rest of the year and hopefully I can play injury-free for the rest of the season.”
Coach Rick Carlisle said Nowitzki, while close to returning, isn’t there yet. But when he is, the return will be done in an ultra-cautious manner.
“When he does come back, it’s going to be very gradual,” Carlisle said. “Let’s not turn this into a big to-do. It’s going to be a gradual working up to what we hope will be normal minutes at some point.”
Asked what “normal” minutes would represent, he said: “Hopefully mid-to-high 20s. But we’ll see. This year has morphed into a much different animal than expected. And so we all have to adjust.”
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