Mavs hope Dirk Nowitzki’s health, relentlessness carry team to more wins in ’17-18

DALLAS — He was forced to sit out 25 of the Dallas Mavericks’ first 30 games during the 2016-17 season, battling his way back from a nagging right Achilles strain while his team got off to a sluggish start. Now, after finishing with a 33-49 record last year without their franchise player in the lineup much of the schedule, the Mavericks hope a healthy Dirk Nowitzki can carry them to more wins during the upcoming season.

Suffering an Achilles injury during the first game of the season after scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a 130-121 overtime road loss at Indiana on Oct. 26, Nowitzki was later sidelined from Nov. 6-21 while rehabbing his way back onto the court. The 13-time All-Star then returned for two games before being sidelined again, missing action from Nov. 27 to Dec. 21. All told, Nowitzki finished his 19th season averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, connecting on 43.7 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range in 54 appearances. But after playing in the fewest number of outings since his rookie year, Nowitzki says he hopes to give his team more of a boost during the ’17-18 campaign.

“My Achilles just wasn’t right for a long, long time, and I basically had to fight my way back from scratch,” Nowitzki admitted after the conclusion of the ’16-17 season. “The work I did that summer was basically out the window, and I had to fight my way back the whole season, so that was tough at times. I was frustrated and disappointed at times, because it wasn’t going quick enough for me. But the last couple of weeks (of the season) I felt good. I felt good moving basically until the end. I played almost every game there and played back-to-backs some even, so I’m looking forward to doing the same program. Maybe with a few tweaks here and there, and I’ll sit together with the trainers and be ready for camp. Everything is moved up a little bit, so I’ll be ready again and hopefully stay injury-free to play as many games as I can.”

Signing a reported two-year contract worth $10 million to return to the Mavericks this summer in free agency, Nowitzki will have a chance to add to his growing list of milestones during his 20th season. He’ll also try to lead the Mavs back to the playoffs, hoping to remain healthy while producing a bounce-back season.

Last season, Nowitzki (30,260) joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) in the NBA’s exclusive 30,000-point club. He also became just the third player in league history to score 30,000 points with one franchise, joining Malone and Bryant on that short list. He’s now just 1,159 points away from tying Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list, hoping to reach that mark this upcoming season. But with the 39-year-old poised to join Bryant as the sole members of the league’s 20-year, only-one-team club this season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle believes the 7-footer would rather lead the franchise to more success than achieve personal accolades. And according to Carlisle, boosting the team to more wins will be Nowitzki’s sole motivation this season.

“This is one of the truly magnificent players in the history of our league. He’s been a rock this year, and it was really tough for him to sit 24 or 25 games at the beginning and watch us get our (tails) kicked the way we did,” Carlisle explained. “You know, he stays positive. He encourages everybody, and then when he gets healthy it always takes a little while for him to get his rhythm and stuff like that. But he’s unrelenting as a positive leader and as a positive leader of this franchise and city.

“Being that guy is something that a lot of us really don’t understand,” the coach added. “It’s a responsibility unlike anything you can imagine, when you are the guy that is openly desiring the responsibility for winning and losing games and winning and losing championships. I’ve been around some of the very best, and these guys are beyond special.”

Mavs are encouraged by Dirk Nowitzki’s offensive resurgence entering All-Star break

DALLAS — Despite entering the NBA All-Star break having dropped back-to-back outings in disappointing fashion to fall three games behind Denver in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff position, the Dallas Mavericks slide into the midseason layoff encouraged by the recent play of superstar Dirk Nowitzki.

Scoring 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting and 4 of 6 from three-point range Wednesday night during a hard-fought 98-91 loss at Detroit, Nowitzki also grabbed 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. He got on a roll in the third quarter as well after the Mavericks (22-34) fell behind by as many as 27, posting 13 points during the period as the team eventually crept to within single digits. And with Nowitzki back to playing at an elite level following an injury-plagued first half of the season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is confident that his team can make a playoff push after the break.

“It was vintage, and we needed it because it energized us even more,” Carlisle said after Nowitzki crept to within 93 points of reaching 30,000 for his career during Wednesday’s loss. “We obviously needed the points on the board to make up the deficit, but it’s clear he’s feeling better and better. So, you know, the countdown continues.”

Hampered by a right Achilles strain during the first portion of the season, Nowitzki has played in 30 games while averaging 13.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists an outing. He’s also shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three-point range. However, with his health issues seemingly behind him, those numbers appear to be on the rise as Nowitzki rounds back into form.

Nowitzki has seen his best production this season so far during the month of February, averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in eight games. The 38-year-old is shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range during the month, showing signs of rekindling his elite offensive skill set. And with the lengthy All-Star break likely to rejuvenate the 7-footer even more, Nowitzki believes he will once again be at his best when the Mavericks resume play next Friday night in Minnesota.

“I mean, a break is always good. You know, I’ll get away a few days,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, I will be working hard with lifting and running some, so once I get back I can hopefully step right back in. It’s about that time, and [Nowitzki’s longtime mentor Holger Geschwindner] is coming. He’s coming after the break and dragging me into the gym, so I’m just trying to keep rolling. You know, it’s been a tough year for me with the injury and missing almost two months, and I basically had to start from zero. It was ugly at times, but I knew it was going to get better. I just had to fight through it and keep working. It was frustrating at times, like I said, but I’m glad I’m feeling a little bit better. My legs are better, and I’m just trying to help the team win some games and hopefully start to string some wins together after the break to really make this a race.”

Note: The Mavericks will now begin play after the All-Star break next Friday night in Minnesota, taking on the Timberwolves. The season series is tied at 1-1. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

The Mavs return to their home floor on Feb. 25, hosting the New Orleans Pelicans. The season series is tied at 1-1. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Game 30: Mavs at Clippers

Highlights: Mavs vs. Clippers

Check out all the top plays from Friday night's 90-88 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Game 29: Mavs at Trail Blazers

Highlights: Mavs vs. Trail Blazers

Check out all the top plays from Wednesday's 96-95 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Game 28: Mavs at Nuggets

Highlights: Mavs vs. Nuggets

Check out all the top plays from Monday night's game against the Denver Nuggets.

Game 27: Mavs vs. Kings

Highlights: Mavs vs. Kings

Check out all the top plays from Sunday's 99-79 win over the Sacramento Kings!

Game 26: Mavs at Jazz

Highlights: Mavs vs. Jazz

Check out all the top plays from Friday night's game against the Utah Jazz.