Even his presence hasn’t helped the Dallas Mavericks recently against LeBron James(notes) and the Cavaliers, who have won four straight in the series and are looking for a sixth win in a row overall in the opener of a four-game road trip.
It’s unclear whether this matchup between two of the last three league MVPs will materialize. Nowitzki had a collision near the basket with Houston’s Carl Landry(notes) in the second quarter of a 116-108 overtime home loss Friday.
Nowitzki went to the locker room for X-rays and stitches to close a cut on his right elbow and did not return. He also did not practice Saturday.
Cleveland (20-7) has done an excellent job defending Nowitzki during its winning streak in the series. The eight-time All-Star is averaging 18.5 points on 37.1 percent shooting for Dallas (19-8).
Nowitzki had failed to shoot better than 40 percent in six straight meetings with Cleveland before making 10 of 19 shots for 27 points in a 111-95 road loss Nov. 28. The Mavericks have lost by an average of 17.5 points during their slide against the Cavaliers.
James has averaged 25.5 points and 8.5 assists in the run over the Mavericks and had 25 and 12 in last month’s win. He’s helped the Cavaliers win their last two visits to Dallas after they lost the previous seven.
Dallas rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation Friday before losing. J.J. Barea matched his season high with 23 points as the Mavericks had their five-game win streak snapped.
“When a big star like Dirk is out, we’ve got to step up and we didn’t do a good job of that,” Barea said.
The Cavaliers are looking at this trip as a chance to prove themselves against some elite Western Conference teams. They face Phoenix on Monday and close with a Christmas Day matchup in Los Angeles against the Lakers, giving newcomer Shaquille O’Neal(notes) chances to face two of his former teams.
“It will be a good test for us,” O’Neal said. “It’s a business trip. We’ll be going against a lot of good teams. We’re going to be locked in as soon as we get on the plane.”
Cleveland feels there is room for improvement after matching their season low for points Friday in an 85-82 win over Milwaukee. James had 26 points, 10 boards and eight assists before he began to think about this week.
“We are looking forward to the challenge,” James said. “It will be a good test for us.”
The Cavs haven’t had to face Josh Howard(notes) recently, with the Dallas swingman missing the last two meetings due to ankle problems. Howard has returned to play five of the last six games for the Mavs, and had 17 points in a season-high 40 minutes Friday.