Dirk Nowitzki missed nine games with a knee sprain that had left the Dallas Mavericks superstar listed as day-to-day. He finally returned to the court Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies, but Dallas' losing streak stretched to five games as Memphis earned an 89-70 win.
The Mavericks were just 2-7 during Nowitzki's absence; even with Saturday's loss, the team is 24-6 when Dirk plays. He wasn't himself against the Grizzlies, scoring seven points on 2-7 shooting. Nowitzki's night didn't last too long; he was ejected early in the third quarter for arguing a foul call, and finished with just 14 minutes played. Dallas went on to suffer as it had during Nowitzki's absence, which is to say the team could not score.
The loss dropped the Mavericks to No. 5 in the West. The league-leading San Antonio Spurs may very well have run away from the Mavericks, who had been in a dog fight with the Texas rivals before Nowitzki's injury. Over that nine-game stretch without Dirk, Dallas lost more games than San Antonio has in 40 games this season. The Mavericks are now 7.5 games behind the Spurs, but just three games behind the L.A. Lakers for the No. 2 spot.
If there's a silver lining, the Mavericks have to date played the league's No. 2 most difficult schedule according to Basketball-Reference.com. The Lakers have played the league's easiest schedule.