DALLAS – Despite multiple reports saying he would be playing in Saturday’s home game against the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki said he has no idea when he’ll be able to play his first game of the season.
“The conditioning is not quite there where I want it, so we’ll be working on it in the next couple of days,” Nowitzki said in an exclusive interview with Mavs.com. “We didn’t really set a date (for his first game of the season), but it’s definitely not (Saturday).”
Nowitzki hasn’t fully recovered after having surgery on his left ankle on Apr. 5. The surgery not only cost the 21-year veteran the final four games of last season, but it prevented him from playing in the four preseason games and the first 23 games of this season.
Lately, Nowitzki has been relegated to going through some of the team’s non-contact practice sessions. And after practice he’s been engaging in a few games of three-on-three halfcourt basketball with the likes of Luka Doncic, Salah Mejri, Jalen Brunson and Ryan Broekhoff.
“We didn’t go much (on Friday in practice), because it’s an early game (Saturday) and the guys are coming off a back-to-back,” Nowitzki said. “But I did everything we did (Friday) and some more, and we’ll see how it is next week.”
Nowitzki, 40, has no idea why folks keep speculating on when he’ll make his 2018-’19 debut without any firm basis for that speculation.
“But it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I think the team is playing great and we have great rhythm.”
Even coach Rick Carlisle said of Nowitzki’s eventual return: “Don’t worry. Nobody is going to get scooped on this thing.
“When we announce that he’s going to play we’ll either announce it to everybody or we’ll announce it to nobody.”
Meanwhile, as he sat and watched the Mavs carve out a 12-11 record thus far, Nowitzki has been thoroughly impressed with what he’s seen. To a point.
“Losing in New Orleans (132-106 on Wednesday) was a tough one, but the guys have played so well together,” Nowitzki said. “We have a great defensive rhythm, so anywhere I can help once I do come back, I’m obviously happy to help.
“We’ve beaten some good teams, we’ve played some great team basketball, our defense has been great with DeAndre (Jordan) anchoring everything. And on the offensive end it’s been fun watching. We have the two different groups with the starters, and then the bench playing well with J. J. (Barea) running the show. It’s been incredible to watch.”
Nowitzki didn’t steer clear of the elephant in the room. He knows the Mavs have had their way in posting an impressive 10-2 record at home, however he’s concerned about their 2-9 record on the road.
“Obviously if we want to sneak in the playoffs we have to play a little better on the road,” Nowitzki said. “We’re 2-9 (on the road) and we’ve got to find ways to stick together and grind some tough wins out down the stretch.”
The Mavs host Houston at 5 p.m. Saturday at American Airlines Center, and also have home games on Monday against Orlando and Wednesday against Atlanta. After that a critical part of the season emerges when the Mavs will play 10 of their next 13 games on the road and in four different time zones, ending with a Jan. 5 contest in Philadelphia.
“I think we have plenty of road games coming up after this home stretch,” Nowitzki said. “I think 10 of our next 13 after that are on the road, so we’ve got a couple of great tests.
“We want to win at home first, and then get on this road trip.”
By that time maybe – just maybe – Nowitzki will be ready to make his debut this season.