Dirk Nowitzki got his first victory of the season as a starter on Wednesday night when the Mavericks knocked off Indiana 110-101 at American Airlines Center.
Afterward, the legendary Maverick who had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes said he’s feeling much more comfortable as a starter than he did coming off the bench.
Part of that is because his body is now about as good as a 40-year-old body can be playing basketball against competitors half his age.
And another part is that he just feels better being on the court for the jump ball.
“It’s a little easier to find your rhythm obviously,” he said of being in the starting lineup. “Off the bench for me is a new role and it’s a little harder. I have a lot of respect for guys who do it their whole career.
“For me, it’s obviously easier to start. But whatever the decision might be, maybe down the stretch we go back to Maxi (Kleber). But we’ll try to make it work and play well.”
It helps, of course, that Nowitzki has recovered from a tendon problem in his surgically repaired left ankle. He was supposed to be ready to play by the start of this season. But the complications with the tendon pushed his recovery back about two months.
“I was hoping to feel like this in November, December when the first month of the season is over,” Nowitzki said. “But those eight weeks I missed with the inflamed tendon messed up the entire season for me. You can’t cry about it. You got to keep working and hopefully keep feeling better and better as the season goes along. I’ll keep working on days off and hope to finish the season even stronger.
Nowitzki said he definitely feels a lot better than when he returned in December. He’s got more bounce in his legs and he said he feels like he can contribute now, whereas he was struggling just to get up and down the court in the first month or so after he returned to action.
For proof, he’s averaging 12.7 points in his three starts and has hit 8-of-22 3-pointers (36.4 percent) from 3-point range.
What Nowitzki is not ready to say is that his improvement and the strong future that the Mavericks have with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis is swaying the pendulum when it comes to perhaps returning for a 22nd season next year.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about it. But I’d love to be there for the young guys one more year. But it depends on how the body feels. I’ve had some issues this year. I had some knee swelling the last few weeks before the All-Star break, so it’s not all great. But like I said, I am feeling better, feeling a little stronger.
“I think I’ll make that decision later on. But I think the future is bright. I think Luka and KP if they stay healthy and stay together should be a great combo and should be playing great off of each other. They both have an incredible skill set for their size. They should jell well, but we’ll have to see how it goes next year.”
Meanwhile, Nowitzki said it was good to see Wesley Matthews, who made his return to American Airlines Center as a member of the Pacers. Matthews, who had 20 points, was traded to New York in the Porzingis deal and subsequently bought out. He signed with the Pacers before the All-Star break.
Nowitzki said Matthews reminded him before the game of just how old 40 years old is.
“He had the picture on my scouting report and it was George Washington,” Nowitzki said. “That one hurt.
“But, as you guys know, I love Wes. He’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve seen. He’ll always be a friend. And he had a heck of a game.”