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Mavs' Harris close, but not quite ready for return

AP - Sports

DALLAS (AP) -- Devin Harris ducked out of his first practice in more than a month without talking to reporters.

The veteran guard probably didn't want to say anything to jinx his long-awaited return to the Dallas Mavericks.

Harris has already had one setback after returning to workouts following offseason toe surgery that delayed his reunion with the franchise that acquired the former top-10 pick on draft night a decade ago.

''He brings a lot, but we've got to make sure he's right before we put him out there,'' coach Rick Carlisle said.

The 10th-year player injured the second toe on his left foot in his only season with Atlanta - Harris' third stop since the Mavericks traded him to get Jason Kidd six years ago.

Harris agreed to a three-year, $9 million contract with his original team in the offseason, but the severity of the toe injury scuttled that deal. He ended up signing for one year at $1.3 million.

A few days after he returned to practice in early December, he had inflammation in another toe, which he said was actually good news. His return to practice Tuesday came exactly six weeks after his first full workout.

''I'm encouraged,'' Carlisle said. ''It's been a process where we've had to do a pushback and kind of restart it. We're getting closer and closer, but it won't happen this week.''

Harris won't play on a two-game road trip to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday and Phoenix on Friday. He's expected to talk to reporters before Saturday's home game against Portland - the start of the second half of the season.

The 30-year-old Harris was mostly a backup when the Mavericks reached the NBA finals in 2006, losing to Miami. But he started 15 playoff games that year and has been a steady double-digit scorer most of his career.

Harris was expected to be the third option at guard behind starters and fellow free agents Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. Without Harris, the backup point guard role has fallen to a pair of rookies in first-round pick Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel, a 25-year-old who played professionally in Israel.

The void has also meant Ellis is playing a team-leading 37 minutes per game, and Calderon is at 32. Both should get some relief once Harris is up to speed.

Larkin was out for Monday's win over Orlando after spraining his ankle two nights earlier against New Orleans. It's the same ankle he broke in summer workouts, causing him to miss the first 10 games.

''The rookies have held the fort, which is a credit to them,'' Carlisle said. ''But there's no substitute for Devin's experience and his ability level.''

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