Mavs will monitor Dirk Nowitzki’s minutes closely in ’17-18 to preserve him throughout 20th season

DALLAS — He’s looking to return to his elite form after an injury-riddled 2016-17 season, playing in just 54 games last year. But in order to make sure 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki makes it through his 20th campaign unscathed, the Dallas Mavericks’ coaching staff may have to strictly manage his playing time this upcoming season.

Last season, Nowitzki battled through a nagging right Achilles strain to average 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He also connected on 43.7 percent from the floor and 37.8 percent from three-point range, clocking 26.4 minutes per outing for the least amount of playing time since his rookie season. However, with Nowitzki set to embark on his 20th campaign with the team this season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle may look to keep the 7-footer’s minutes low throughout the grueling 82-game schedule. And with hopes of preserving Nowitzki for a playoff run late in the season, Carlisle admits that the ageless superstar’s time on the court could continue to steadily decrease early in the schedule.

“We’ve got to try to notch it down a little bit,” Carlisle said last season while addressing Nowitzki’s playing time. “You know, I’d say mid-20s. … It would be good to get him to 26 (minutes per game). You know, it’s tricky, because if you play him too few minutes, he’ll never get into the flow of the game. And he’s very much a rhythm-and-flow player, so I have no concerns that we won’t be able to continue the transition and just try to lighten the load a little bit. It’s a deep roster, and there’s a lot of talented guys. There’s a lot of guys that can score. Our shooting, I think, is better in a lot of areas, and so we’ll be fine there.”

Averaging 37.7 minutes per game during the ’08-09 season, Nowitzki saw a steady slide in his playing time before it spiked to 32.9 minutes an outing in the ’13-14 campaign. Carlisle then managed to trim Nowitzki’s minutes under 30 during the ’14-15 season for the first time since he was a rookie, sending the future Hall of Famer out to the court an average of 29.6 minutes per outing during his 77 appearances. Nowitzki’s playing time went back up the following season to 31.5 minutes a game during 75 appearances in ’15-16. But after being forced to miss 25 of the first 30 games last season due to the injury, Nowitzki says he expects Carlisle and the coaching staff to keep him fresh for the stretch run of the schedule.

For his career, Nowitzki has averaged 34.9 minutes per game during his 19 seasons. The 2007 league MVP and 2011 Finals MVP also ranks seventh on the NBA’s all-time list in regular-season games played (1,394) and sixth in minutes logged (48,698), putting many miles on his legs in the process. Becoming the sixth scorer in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points last season, Nowitzki now sits just 1,159 points away from tying Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list. However, the 39-year-old says he won’t ask for more playing time this season in order to reach more individual milestones.

“You know, I don’t really have a number in my head. That’s up to the coaches,” Nowitzki said while addressing his playing time entering this season. “I’m going to get ready for whatever it’s going to be and however it’s going to play out. I’m sure there’s some games where you go a little higher. I’m not sure what we’re doing on back-to-backs here and there, but I’m sure there’s going to be a little rest built in there. And you just have to wait and see how the season goes. … Hopefully I can still play effective minutes when I’m out there.”