Dirk is playing everyone. Off the bench. Mavs and Spurs starting on FS Southwest at 6.— Mark Followill (@MFollowill) December 23, 2012
Nowitzki was sidelined for more than two months after undergoing surgery in mid-October. That was longer than the initial timetable suggested, but the Dallas Mavericks weren't going to rush their biggest star back into action and risk further injury.
The 11-time All-Star selection will provide an immediate boost to a Mavericks squad that has hovered around the .500 mark without him. Dallas has used a committee approach to replace him, but, as expected, there was a clear drop-off.
After all, Nowitzki has career averages of 22.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists to go along with solid shooting percentages across the board. It's almost impossible to replace that type of production and efficiency.
Getting him back will allow the Mavericks to use a more basic rotation. Sixteen players have already seen action during the season, as head coach Rick Carlisle has tried to catch lightning in a bottle while dealing with injuries.
If Dirk stays healthy, are the Mavs contenders in the West?
Once Nowitzki gets back into game shape, Carlisle should be able to shorten the bench and let his stars carry the load as the Mavericks attempt to get back on track.
The one player besides Nowitzki to watch during the process is O.J. Mayo. He's emerged as the team's top scorer during the star forward's absence, but his role on offense will likely get reduced as the focus shifts back toward Nowitzki.
Mayo is a good defender when he's motivated, but if he's not getting as many looks on offense, will that impact his defensive effort? That's one of the biggest things to watch in the coming weeks.
That said, it's hard to imagine Nowitzki's return being anything but a net positive for the Mavericks. He will provide the team with a go-to scorer and should provide a formidable post duo with Chris Kaman, who has played well in his absence.
Expect the Mavs to start climbing the standings pretty quickly, as long as Nowitzki doesn't suffer any further setbacks upon his return.