Dirk Nowitzki may not be at 100 percent at any point this season, no matter how long it lasts. Pain and soreness remain in his left ankle and his movement is limited.
"It won't be good for a while, but it doesn't matter at this point," Nowitzki said Friday. "Like I said the other day, if this were November there's no way I'm playing right now. It's not November and like last year we're not 20 games up on the (No. 2 seed). I just have to play through some stuff."
Nowitzki is playing with a custom-made brace attached in his left sneaker to stabilize the ankle. He's compensating by keeping it simple. Let the offensive flow through Josh Howard, for instance, and take spot-up shots when open. The adrenaline rush of just playing is also helping with the pain.
That doesn't mean the ankle won't get better. Nowitzki has experienced noticeable improvement since Wednesday's return and it's logical that the ankle will continue to progress with treatment. For the time being, Nowitzki understands his limitations.
"Offensively, I think I can predict more what I can do," he said. "Defensively, you're always reacting. A guy might be driving and you might have to go up for a block, so defensively it's kind of hard to just be out there and not do anything.
"Offensively, if I don't really feel like going to the basket, I can always dribble hand-off or swing it to Josh or move it or set a pick-and-roll because my movement is not quite there yet."
Despite the limitations, his minutes have gone up in each game, from 27 to 31 to 38. The same holds true for his scoring output 18 to 27 to 32.
MAVERICKS 105, SUNS 98: Dirk Nowitzki scored 32 Sunday and the Mavericks completely shut down Phoenix in the fourth quarter with a stifling defensive display that frustrated Steve Nash, Shaquille O'Neal, Amare Stoudemire and the rest of the high-flying Suns. Phoenix, up 11 going into the quarter, managed just nine points in the final 12 minutes.
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Dallas (48-29) answered with 27 to put the finishing touches on the dramatic comeback from as many as 14 down. The win reduces the magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three with five games left, as Dallas remained seventh in the Western Conference. The ninth-place Warriors (46-30) lost earlier in the day, leaving Golden State two full games back of the Mavs.
Josh Howard complemented Nowitzki with 24 points and nine boards. Brandon Bass scored 19 off the bench. Jason Terry added 12 and Erick Dampier (eight points, six boards and five fouls) was a presence inside. Jason Kidd filled up the box with eight points, seven assists, six rebounds and four blocks.
The defensive stand in the fourth was the Mavs' best of the season. The Suns missed 12 consecutive shots at one point and had only five points going into the final minute. Shaquille O'Neal (13 points) played almost the entire fourth and scored just two. Steve Nash missed all six of his shots, including four three-pointers. Phoenix was three of 19 from the floor (15.8 percent) in the fourth.
Warriors lose ground in playoff fight
The Warriors feel they have two things to say to the Kings before hosting their Northern California rivals Tuesday.
First off: Thank you for beating the Nuggets on Saturday night, a defeat that temporarily dropped Denver into a tie with Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot.
And secondly: Now go back to sleep, because a similar upset Tuesday would greatly hurt the Warriors.
Saturday wasn't the first time the Warriors were rooting for their rivals to succeed. Neither was it the first time the Kings came through for them.
In their uphill chase against the Clippers for the final playoff spot last season, the Warriors went to Sacramento in April and thumped the hosts 125-108. On the way out the door, they patted their opponents on the back and wished them well two nights later in Los Angeles.
Sure enough, with just three games remaining in the season and time running out on the Warriors, the Kings stunned the Clippers 105-100, allowing Golden State to take a lead it never relinquished in the playoff race.
If history is to repeat itself, the Warriors are going to have to take care of business Tuesday.
HORNETS 108, WARRIORS 96: The Warriors have done some amazing things to wrap up winning road trips season.
They won at Philadelphia in overtime on the fifth day of a seven-game trip to complete a 4-1 Eastern swing in November. They surprised the Cavaliers in Cleveland at the end of an eight-game trip in December after having lost a tough one to New Jersey the night before. And they triumphed at Orlando at the end of a five-night, four-day venture in March.
So when the Warriors needed a win Sunday at New Orleans to record their fifth consecutive non-losing trip of four or more games this season, it seemed as likely to happen as it did improbable.
Alas, the streak is over. A 90-all tie in the nationally televised game turned in the Hornets' favor for good during a 16-4, fourth-quarter run.
The Warriors lost three of four on the trip, but there was a silver lining to ponder on the flight home: They're still within striking distance of Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and four of their last five games including one against the Nuggets are at home.
Pacers keep postseason hopes alive
It won't get them a playoff spot, but a victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday will help get the Pacers a step closer to possibly getting there.
The Pacers can move to within two games of the Hawks if they beat them in a head-to-head showdown at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. A loss will bring Atlanta's magic number to clinch the final playoff spot down to two games.
The Pacers and Hawks have split the season series, with each team protecting its home court.
This will be the first time, however, that the Pacers have faced the Hawks since they acquired Mike Bibby in a trade with Sacramento in February.
Bibby and Joe Johnson make Atlanta a tough backcourt for the Pacers to match up against.
Flip Murray and Danny Granger will draw the assignment of defending the two.
Indiana goes into the game winners of eight of its last 11 games.
PACERS 105, BUCKS 97: It took Travis Diener 77 games for him to show why Larry Bird was so high on him last summer.
The Indiana Pacers point guard came off the bench to score 15 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter Sunday. All 15 of Diener's fourth quarter points were on three-pointers.
It was Diener that ignited a 19-1 run at the start of the final quarter to help the Pacers overcome a 10-point deficit.
Guard Danny Granger led the Pacers with 27 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Center Jeff Foster scored a season-high 16 points to go with 15 rebounds for Indiana, which moved to within three games of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.