With more than half the season gone and the Dallas Mavericks outside the Western Conference playoff picture, Dirk Nowitzki understands the importance of his team's upcoming four-game road trip.
The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the teams they're chasing.
Dallas seeks its seventh victory in nine games overall and third straight over Portland as it opens its trip Tuesday night.
Nowitzki still isn't 100 percent after sitting out the first 27 games following offseason knee surgery. Not coincidentally, the Mavericks (19-25) could be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season - Nowitzki's second in the league.
"I'm trying to get myself going and hopefully chase the eighth (and final playoff) spot and really make a good run once I'm all the way back (from injury)," Nowitzki told the team's official website.
Dallas has started to make a move - its only two losses in the last eight were against Oklahoma City and San Antonio - and got 18 points apiece from Nowitzki and Shawn Marion in Sunday's 110-95 win over Phoenix.
"I think this was obviously as close to a must-win as it gets in the regular season knowing we have to go on the road for four tough games against some of the teams that are right there with us or even above us for the eighth spot," said Nowitzki, who passed Allen Iverson for 18th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"I'm starting to feel better. I have a little more pop on my jump shot. I have a little more lift."
The Mavericks, who have won their last two on the road after a 1-9 stretch, also will face Golden State, Phoenix and Oklahoma City during their trip.
"The road trip is a tough trip and the games are all important games, so we wanted to get some momentum," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Portland is back playing really well again. That game is going to be tough. It's a trip we're looking forward to and we'll keep working."
O.J. Mayo scored 32 points and Darren Collison finished with a season-high 13 assists as Dallas shot a season-high 61.5 percent to beat the visiting Blazers 114-91 on Nov. 5 without Nowitzki.
After dropping the first three games on a five-game homestand to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Washington, the Blazers (22-22) beat Indiana and the Clippers. But they fell 96-83 in the back end of a home-and-home set with Los Angeles on Sunday.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who is averaging 27.0 points in his last five versus Dallas, scored a team-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on Sunday for Portland, which has lost seven of nine.
It is averaging 17.4 turnovers over its last seven after committing 19 on Sunday, including five from rookie Damian Lillard.
"Our turnovers hurt us and gave them (the ball in) transition. I thought they were more aggressive," coach Terry Stotts said.
The Blazers also showed fatigue, though they won't have much time to rest before their third game in four nights. Their starting lineup plays the most minutes in the league.
Portland's 16.5 points per game off the bench are by far the fewest in the NBA.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved