Timetable for Nowitzki's return uncertain after diagnosis of ankle, knee injuries

Updated: March 24, 2008, 9:01 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Dirk Nowitzki insisted Monday that he doesn't know yet if he can make one of his trademark fast recoveries from the leg injuries he suffered in Sunday's crunching fall against San Antonio.

All he knows for sure, at this stage, is that he's extremely fortunate.

"It's a little disappointing now, but I think the good thing is [that] it could've been a lot worse," Nowitzki told reporters in Dallas after being diagnosed with a moderate high left ankle sprain and a mildly sprained left knee.

"I was really lucky. Something more could have happened to my knee or the leg could have been broken. I think this is the best-case scenario. … It could have been a season-ending injury or even career-ending. So I'm definitely trying to see the positive side."

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Sunday that the club was initially bracing for a two-week absence, but after an MRI confirmed the injuries, an official timetable for Nowitzki's return was not announced Monday.

Sources close to Nowitzki, however, told ESPN.com that the 29-year-old remains hopeful of returning in less than two weeks, even though stiffness in the ankle and the knee has required Nowitzki's left foot to be placed in a protective boot.

Given Nowitzki's history of fast returns from numerous ankle injuries, it's not inconceivable that he could be back in the lineup sometime next week. But Nowitzki noted that the high ankle sprain is "not really a normal ankle sprain," which makes it tougher for him to make projections.

"I really don't have any experience with this," Nowitzki said. "This is fairly new to me. And with the knee, I've never really had knee problems. So I'm just going to take it day by day. … I really don't know how long it's going to take. A week? Two weeks? I have no idea."

Asked if he's fairly certain that he'll at least be back before the playoffs, given his reputation for durability after never missing more than six games in any of his previous nine regular seasons, Nowitzki said: "I'm hoping. … Usually I'm good with recovering from injuries. I know I'm not 20 any more, but I still feel young, my body feels young. So hopefully I can recover pretty quick."

Fresh off a 67-win season that led to Nowitzki's first MVP award, Dallas is clinging to the seventh seed in the West after the 88-81 defeat to San Antonio dropped its record to 0-8 against teams with a winning record since the Jason Kidd trade. Three of the Mavericks' next five games, furthermore, are against teams directly below them in the standings: Denver and Golden State.

"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."

Of course, even one game without Nowitzki is a major blow for the Mavericks, as evidenced by their 113-98 loss to Houston earlier this month when Nowitzki was serving a one-game suspension for a flagrant foul on Utah's Andrei Kirilenko.

Nowitzki crumpled to the floor and clutched his left leg in agony with just over three minutes to go in Sunday's third quarter after attempting to block a shot by San Antonio's Ime Udoka. Nowitzki's leg appeared to bend and twist awkwardly after Udoka's right leg came down on Nowitzki's as they landed.

Nowitzki started reaching for his ankle and then grabbed his calf, slapping the floor repeatedly. He put a hand on his head, then didn't move while team doctor Tarek Souryal and athletic trainer Casey Smith worked on his lower leg. The arena was silent until Nowitzki sat up.

Nowitzki had 11 points and seven rebounds at the time, with San Antonio leading 56-54 and 3:18 left in the period.

A shell-shocked Cuban walked out of American Airlines Center with two fingers aloft to reflect the initial two-week fears.

Nowitzki was reminded by local reporters on Monday that Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens suffered a similar high ankle sprain that required three weeks of constant rehabilitation -- and some time in a hyperbaric chamber -- to make it back for the playoffs. One difference, though: Nowitzki has not needed crutches in the immediate aftermath of his injury; Owens did.

"I'm going to ice my butt off for the next couple of days and hopefully I can be out there as soon as I can," Nowitzki said. "I don't even want to think that we're not going to make the playoffs. … If it's best to stay [in Dallas while the team goes to Denver on Wednesday] and get treatment and sleep in whatever chamber I need to sleep in, I'll do that."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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