SALT LAKE CITY — Getting Dirk Nowitzki back on the court couldn't come at a better time for Dallas. Without him in the lineup, the Mavericks have struggled to get enough done on offense to offset their defensive shortcomings.
Nowitzki has been sidelined since the team's season-opening 130-121 loss to the Indiana Pacers. He has been nursing a sore Achilles tendon and dealing with a stomach ailment. Without the veteran forward, Dallas (0-3) is one of six NBA teams that still hasn't won this season.
The latest loss for the Mavericks was perhaps the most painful. Dallas fell 93-92 to Houston on a free throw from James Harden with 0.1 second left after shooting just 38.1 percent (32-of-84). Solving these sudden offensive woes has become top priority.
“We have to keep finding ways,” guard Wesley Matthews said. “Our margin for error is slim, like most NBA teams.”
Nowitzki plans to return to the starting lineup when the Mavericks face the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. Having him back on the floor for a tough road game could give Dallas a major boost.
“I feel better,” Nowitzki told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Tuesday. “It's been obviously a rough few days.”
Nowitzki has a knack for unleashing offensive fireworks against Utah. In the three games last season, Nowitzki averaged 19.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting.
Utah (2-2) should be better prepared for what Dallas can do this season. The Jazz handed San Antonio its first loss of the season on Tuesday night, downing the Spurs 106-91 behind 22 points and seven assists from veteran point guard George Hill. They got it done on both ends of the court. San Antonio shot just 43.4 percent (33 of 76) while the Jazz made 48.4 percent (15-of-31) of their 3-pointers.
Defense has been Utah's bread and butter early in the season. The Jazz have allowed just 89.3 points per game over their last three contests. Utah has held opponents under 90 points in 59 games dating to the start of the 2014-15 season — the most of any NBA team.
Offensively, the Jazz seemed to have figured things out. They hit a bump with a terrible shooting performance against the Clippers on Sunday, but bounced back in style against the Spurs two days later. Hill is a big reason behind it.
In his first four games with the Jazz, Hill is averaging 20.5 points and 4.8 assists. He is also playing mistake-free basketball. Hill had zero turnovers against San Antonio and made several big baskets in the fourth quarter when Utah needed them to pull away.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he has encouraged Hill to go full throttle on offense.
“He's got a lot of pride in his defense,” Snyder said after the team's home opener last Friday. “We have talked about George being aggressive offensively. So I think the pride defensively and aggressiveness is what helps make him.”
Dallas eliminated Utah from the playoffs in its most recent trip to Salt Lake City in April. The Mavericks downed the Jazz 102-91 behind 22 points and 11 rebounds from Nowitzki, 23 points from Deron Williams and 20 points from Matthews.