Expected to return after serving a one-game suspension, Nowitzki hopes to help the surging Mavericks to their 10th straight victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
Dallas (18-12) won 98-76 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday without Nowitzki, who was suspended about three hours prior to the game after he was ejected for taking a backhand swing at Matt Harpring in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 97-88 loss to Utah.
“Overall, the team came together,” said Josh Howard, who had 29 points, nine rebounds and a career-best seven assists against the Clippers. “Once we found out about Dirk not playing, we had to come in tighter and just be a better unit without him.”
Nowitzki is averaging 25.8 points and 8.9 rebounds this season, and 28.1 points on 50.9 percent shooting in 13 games this month. The league’s MVP two seasons ago, Nowitzki averaged 26.8 points while shooting 56.9 percent (37-for-65) in four games versus Minnesota last season, but he might not need to take all upon himself after a solid performance from his teammates on Sunday.
James Singleton had 11 points and eight rebounds starting for Nowitzki, while Jose Juan Barea scored 17 off the bench for Dallas, which held the Clippers to 38.0 percent shooting and owned a 53-38 advantage on the boards.
“Everybody stepped up and helped us rebound with Dirk out,” said Jason Kidd of the Mavericks, who have won four of five and are 16-5 since losing five in a row from Nov. 7-14. “It gave other guys an opportunity to play, and they took full advantage of that.”
Howard is averaging 18.5 points this season and is coming off his best effort in eight games since missing the previous 11 because of a sprained left ankle.
“It was a big game mentally that he could get under his belt,” said Kidd of Howard. “It showed him he doesn’t always have to shoot it.”
Nowitzki scored 21 and Howard added 14 in Dallas’ 95-85 win at Minnesota on Nov. 1 in the only meeting between the teams this season. The Timberwolves (6-24), who have lost five in a row at American Airlines Arena, last beat the Mavericks 91-78 at home on Jan. 4, 2006.
Dallas held Minnesota’s Al Jefferson to 14 points with 12 rebounds in November, but could have a tougher time containing the Timberwolves’ star after he posted a season-high 38 points and 16 rebounds in a 108-98 overtime win over Memphis on Monday.
“When the big horse gets it going like that, it’s tremendous,” Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said of Jefferson, who has topped the 30-point mark in two of his last five games.
Jefferson, averaging 22.7 points and 10.4 boards in 2008-09, scored the first seven points in overtime for the Timberwolves, who won have won two of three since losing 13 in a row overall.