While he hasn't quite returned to his All-Star form, Dirk Nowitzki has hit some big shots lately to breathe some life into the Dallas Mavericks' playoff hopes.
Dallas seeks its fourth win in five games on Sunday night when it visits the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have lost seven of eight.
Since starting out 1-8 in December once Nowitzki returned from preseason knee surgery, the Mavericks (28-33) have turned things around with a 14-9 record since Jan. 10 with the 7-footer in the lineup. Nowitzki had just 12 points on 6-of-14 shooting on Friday, but drilled a pair of jumpers down the stretch to key a 102-99 win at Detroit.
Nowitzki is averaging 15.9 points on 44.1 percent shooting - his lowest scoring average since his rookie season - but has scored 18.5 per game while hitting 50.4 percent from the field in his last eight.
Thanks to Utah's loss at New York on Saturday, the Mavericks have moved within three games of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Still, they'll have to leapfrog the Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland to reach the postseason.
"We're just taking them one game at a time," Nowitzki said. "We can't really look at the big picture, because it doesn't really look that great. We just have to stay positive and keep working."
After finishing with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting in a 113-98 home win over the Timberwolves on Jan. 14, Nowitzki hopes to add to his recent success in Minnesota. He's averaged 25.1 points while hitting 55.3 percent from the field in his last nine visits.
The Mavericks appear to have a decent shot at continuing their late playoff push against a Minnesota team that has lost 23 of 28 following a 111-88 defeat at Denver on Saturday.
While the Timberwolves (21-38) pulled out a 90-82 victory at Dallas on Nov. 12 and a 114-106 overtime home win on Dec. 15, those wins came before Nowitzki returned.
Dallas guard O.J. Mayo, who had 22 points and went 5 for 8 from 3-point range on Friday, has averaged 19.3 points while hitting 7 for 11 from beyond the arc in the season series.
Shawn Marion, though, is a game-time decision after missing Friday's contest with a calf injury.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, are expected to play without four starters - Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain), Kevin Love (broken hand), Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf) and Brandon Roy (knee surgery) - for the fifth straight contest.
"It gets tough on all of us, especially when you have nine guys and you're going up against a team like (Denver),'' said forward Derrick Williams, who has averaged 19.4 points and 9.1 rebounds in his last seven games.
Mickael Gelabale had a season-high 19 points on Saturday, while J.J. Barea added 15. Barea, who helped Dallas win the 2011 title, has scored 36 in his last two against the Mavericks after sitting out the first meeting with a sprained left foot.
Minnesota, however, has averaged just 87.8 points while shooting 39.7 percent from the floor and 27 for 104 (26.0 percent) from 3-point range in its last six.
Since winning 18 of 19 in this series, the Mavericks have dropped four of six to the Timberwolves.