DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki didn’t deliver the news hopeful Dallas Mavericks fans wanted Tuesday as the star forward said he is still three to four weeks away from making his season debut.
With a return targeted for mid-December, the arthroscopic surgery Nowitzki had to clean out his bothersome right knee on Oct. 19 could cost the 11-time All-Star another 10-13 games. Dallas, which is breaking in nine new players, is 2-5 in its last seven games and 6-6 overall. The Mavs face dropping below .500 for the first time this season against the New York Knicks at home on Wednesday, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, I tried, but I couldn’t cut the time down,” Nowitzki said of his recovery process. “We just started doing a little cardio in the pool and riding the bike a little (Monday) and riding the elliptical for the first time in a long time. So, saying all that, I think I’m still about two weeks out before even getting on the court and start working out, start running, start shooting. By that point, I’m assuming I need a good week or two to get in halfway decent playing shape running and shooting and doing all sorts of stuff.”
The original prognosis from doctors was a six-week recovery period before Nowitzki could begin on-court basketball work. Incredibly durable during his previous 14 seasons and a famously quick healer when he was injured, Nowitzki believed he’d be able to knock off a week or two.
“From the beginning, the goal is that the swelling has to be gone 100 percent and the strength has to be back 100 percent,” Nowitzki said. “And once that goal is reached, then I can obviously think about playing again. But I think we’re still far away from that.
“I was obviously hoping to cut that time a lot shorter. It’s been a frustrating time for me, especially watching and nothing I can really do. So there’s been some hard days, some frustrating days. But I think now it’s gotten better this last week or so and now I guess I’m seeing the end of the tunnel. But there were some frustrating times at the beginning.”
Nowitzki, 34, said he’s disappointed that his recovery will take the full six weeks, but after some initial defiance he has come to grips with the reality of the surgery. He said he won’t rush a comeback and risk a setback regardless of how the Mavs’ season turns over the next couple weeks.
He missed a career-high nine games two seasons ago with a sprained right knee, the first time he injured the now-surgically repaired knee. That season, the 2010-11 championship campaign, Nowitzki returned too quickly with the Mavs flailing at 2-7 in his absence. He experienced setbacks before returning to full strength, an experience he said he will not duplicate this time.
“I’m hoping maybe after these two years [left on his contract] 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,” Nowitzki said. “So it’s been learning to be patient the last couple weeks. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I 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.”
In the mean time, the struggling Mavs will have to figure out how to fix rebounding and turnover issues if they hope to get back over .500 and stay there until Nowitzki returns some time next month.
Dallas ranks 26th in rebound differential, getting outrebounded by more than four a game. In Monday’s loss, Golden State had a 19-rebound edge and 19-7 on the offensive boards, allowing the Warriors to escape with a win despite shooting just 40.7 percent.
“I like the guys we have,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “And I have a strong belief that we can do a lot better than we’re doing right now.”