DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki returned to the practice court Wednesday for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee two months ago, but he still couldn’t pinpoint a return to game action beyond some time after Christmas.
“This is the first day stopping, pushing off, moving. We’ll see how it reacts,” the Dallas Mavericks’ all-time leading scorer said. “I’m going to do that a couple times, and do some contact for a while. Maybe any time after Christmas, that’ll be fun.”
He did lament that Dallas won’t have many practice days the rest of the month with three games in four nights before Christmas and then three games in four nights after the holiday.
Nowitzki said he was pleased with how he felt shortly after Wednesday’s short team practice that included only light contact work in preparation for Thursday’s home game against the Miami Heat, the start of a grueling six-game stretch to end 2012. He followed up the team workout with a 2-on-2 session with low-minute teammates Roddy Beaubois, Bernard James and Jae Crowder.
“I thought I played decent. Obviously, my legs are pretty shot,” Nowitzki said. “The first time running and shooting and jumping, so it’s going to take awhile for me to get back in halfway game shape. You can run in the pool and do some elliptical all you want, but it’s not like a 7-foot guy, 250 [pounds], leaning on you, pushing around and you still got to make a move and jump and then concentrate to make a shot. So I think it’s going to take a while to get in halfway decent shape. But for the first day, I think it felt pretty good.”
At 12-13, the Mavs now face the most rigorous stretch of their season, and they will be down more than just Dirk. Starting point guard Derek Fisher (right knee strain) won’t play against Miami, and forward Elton Brand (groin) and center Brandan Wright (right ankle sprain) will be game-time decisions.
After the Heat, Dallas plays Friday night at Memphis and finishes the pre-Christmas schedule at San Antonio on Sunday. After Christmas, Dallas plays at Oklahoma City on Dec. 27, then at home the next night against Denver, followed by the Spurs again at home on Dec. 30.
The road back to recovery has been a much longer one than Nowitzki anticipated, and he’s made that clear for weeks now. On Wednesday, he said that chronic swelling during the first couple weeks after surgery set him back “two or three weeks.”
The initial prognosis from the team’s medical staff was that Nowitzki would return to basketball activities after six weeks. About a month after surgery, Nowitzki hoped to make his season debut by mid-December. He’s already missed 25 games, 16 more than his previous high in any season when he sat out nine games with a sprained right knee in the 2010-11 season.
Nowitzki said at this point he sees no point in returning until he’s 100 percent and joked that in his case “rushing back” is no longer even a legitimate term.
“It’s almost, what, nine weeks? I mean we’re not rushing it anymore, it’s as slow as you can get unfortunately,” Nowitzki said. “The swelling at the beginning was just so bad, and we don’t really know why. Maybe I was trying too early to do something, nobody really knows. People react to surgery I guess different and mine was just really swollen and that really set me back two or three weeks.”