The former All-Star had missed eight straight games because of the injury. The frustrating part for the Mavericks was that every time he seemed close to returning, the ankle would swell and get sore again.
"You're talking about a dynamic athlete that needs to be up to near full capacity physically to do the things he does," coach Rick Carlisle said. "So you can't put him out there unless he is pain-free and swelling-free and right now he's not."
Multiple MRIs have shown no structural damage and nothing requiring surgery; Carlisle described it as "nothing that's out of the ordinary." Thus, the best option was to mobilize the ankle in hopes that a long rest is all he needs.
"He's made progress, but he isn't there yet so we're going to shut him down for a little bit," Carlisle said. "He's made a great effort to get back, but there's a yo-yo effect going on with the swelling. Right now, this is the right thing to do. Rather than get into a speculative amount of time, we're just going to say it's for a while."
Howard averages 20.3 points and 8.2 rebounds, both trailing only Dirk Nowitzki. The swingman also is among the club's best defenders, able to cover guards and forwards.
Since Howard got hurt, Dallas was 7-1 going into Tuesday night's game against San Antonio, but Carlisle stressed "we're much better with him." The Mavericks lost both games Howard missed earlier this season with a sprained wrist.
Jerry Stackhouse is not among the likely replacements because of a foot problem that's sidelined him since mid-November.
"There's something there that's still being addressed," Carlisle said.
Without Stackhouse or Howard, Carlisle has continued a season-long juggling of his lineup. Devean George was expected to start his fourth straight game Tuesday night, with Dallas also relying more on a three-guard lineup featuring Jason Kidd, Jose Juan Barea and Jason Terry. Shawne Williams has earned extra minutes lately, too.
"Until we can talk about [Howard] being ready to go, we'll have to just keep doing it by committee," Carlisle said. "Without him out there, we're not the team that we need to be."