DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki came out of the locker room wearing a blue practice jersey and gray sweat pants, then headed downstairs to the Dallas Mavericks practice court. He slapped hands with Jason Kidd’s son and joked with a few other folks nearby.
His light mood changed once he reached the crowd waiting for him.
Nowitzki met with reporters for about 10 minutes Monday to discuss the leg injury he sustained the previous day. He said he feels fortunate it’s only a moderate high-ankle sprain and a mildly sprained knee and he hopes to be back in a week or two.
But he also realizes it could be longer and the Mavericks might miss the playoffs without him.
“This is probably the most painful time to miss games,” Nowitzki said. “That’s very discouraging.”
The medical staff can’t even set a rehabilitation plan for the reigning MVP until the swelling is gone, which will give them a better feel for the damage.
“We’ll take it day-by-day, trust our trainers, trust our doctors, then go from there,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully I can move where I can already go on the underwater treadmill a little bit in the next couple of days so at least I can put some pressure on it and see how it feels.”
If there was any good news for the Mavs, it’s that the big German moved pretty quickly for a guy with a bulky protective boot on his left leg. And, while Nowitzki was talking, Kidd was putting in extra work on his jump shot. Dallas will need all the scoring it can get without Nowitzki’s 23.6 points per game.
“I think this is a great challenge,” Kidd said. “We feel that we still have a lot of the pieces to be successful. We know that it’s not going to be easy.”
It wasn’t going to be easy, even with Nowitzki.
The Mavericks have lost three straight and are only 9-8 since Kidd arrived in a blockbuster trade that was supposed bolster their championship chances.
Now, with 12 games left, Dallas has some work to do to keep alive a streak of seven straight playoff trips. The Mavericks were a half-game ahead of Golden State and two up on Denver pending Monday night games for the Warriors and Nuggets.
Getting passed by Golden State would only drop Dallas from the seventh seed to the eighth. Also getting passed by Denver would sink the Mavericks into the lottery.
Three of the Mavs’ next five games are against Golden State and Denver. Life without Nowitzki begins Tuesday night at home against the Clippers.
“In this league anything’s possible,” Nowitzki said. “Everything’s so tight. … So, we’ll just see what happens, but I’m confident in the guys and we’ll go from there.”
Nowitzki has had plenty of traditional ankle sprains, but never a “high” one, which is closer to the shin. Local sports fans know all about them because Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens missed three weeks with the same injury, then returned for the playoffs.
“Usually I’m good with recovering from injuries,” Nowitzki said. “I know I’m not 20 any more, but I still feel young, my body feels young. So hopefully I can recover pretty quick.”
Should Nowitzki return in two weeks, he’d likely be back for the final five games.
Should the injury linger, it could have international ramifications: Germany is among 12 national teams vying for the three remaining spots in the Olympics. The qualifying tournament is in July.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been fond of his players taking part in international events. He said Monday he hadn’t discussed with Nowitzki how this injury might affect that.
Nowitzki has missed only 26 games over 10 seasons. Dallas is 0-1 without him this season, losing to Houston a few weeks ago when he was suspended.
“I think we were a little bit in a fog against the Rockets, but now that we know he’s not coming back right now, hopefully guys won’t look to the locker room,” coach Avery Johnson said. “There’s no Dirk coming out of a phone booth or anything.”
That Rockets game is proof teams can keep winning after losing an All-Star. Houston won 10 straight after Yao Ming was injured.
Nowitzki was hurt when he landed awkwardly after running to block a shot during the third quarter of a loss to San Antonio on Sunday afternoon. An MRI exam Monday morning confirmed the diagnosis.
“I’m trying to see the positive and it could’ve been a lot worse,” Nowitzki said. “It could’ve been a season-ending injury or even career-ending.”