LOS ANGELES – Dirk Nowitzki is back. And this time, he plans to stick around a little longer.
The Mavericks’ leader, who has missed all but five games this season, will play on a limited-minutes basis tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s missed the last 14 games and 22 of the last 24 with a strained right Achilles.
An hourlong workout Thursday convinced Nowitzki, the medical staff and coach Rick Carlisle that the time has come to get Nowitzki back in game action.
“The Achilles responded really well to all the stuff we did,” Nowitzki said. “But nothing is like replicating the games. We’ll ease into it and play some spot minutes here and there and increase the workload as we go along. But I’m really happy. It hasn’t been great for a long, long time. Hopefully we’re over the worst and not looking back from here.
“I’m excited to be back and hopefully stay back this time. I don’t want to keep being in and out of the lineup all season.”
Carlisle said Nowitzki is pain-free and that the No. 6 scorer in NBA history will be eased into back into action in a very cautious manner.
“This is a beginning,” he said. “It’s going to be a long road back to full minutes and full conditioning. Now is the time to start.”
About the workout on Thursday, Carlisle said: “He went hard for an hour. He had two shirts on and the shirts were totally soaked. He’s done the work. Things are in a very positive position right now so it’s time to get going.”
Nowitzki returned for two games in late November but the Achilles acted up again and the Mavericks made the decision to shut him down until the time was right.
He said he’s confident that there will be no similar setbacks now.
“I felt decent enough obviously to come back a few weeks ago, and it was OK,” Nowitzki said. “I didn’t expect it to get worse again, which is why I wanted to play. But it’s definitely much better now and we don’t expect it to get worse again. We’re going to go a little slower than we did a couple weeks ago.”
Meanwhile, the Mavericks will be without J.J. Barea against the Clippers. The guard, who had just returned two games ago from a left calf strain, returned to Dallas to have more diagnostic tests done for what is being termed a left leg muscle strain.
Because of the long holiday weekend, he needed to get back to Dallas Friday to have the tests done.
“Again, we don’t feel this is serious at this point, but we had an in-arena MRI the other night (in Portland) and those just don’t show as clear a picture as the ones at (the Mavericks’ doctors’) place,” Carlisle said.
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