DALLAS (AP) -Dirk Nowitzki got back in the playoff race with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, starting a pivotal game against Golden State after missing the previous four with a high left ankle sprain.
Nowitzki, who sprained his ankle and his knee 10 days earlier, moved gingerly when he took shots during warmups just before the game. There were chants of ``Dirk! Dirk! Dirk!'' just before pregame introductions, then a deafening roar when he was the last starter introduced.
Warriors coach Don Nelson, the former Mavericks coach, embraced Nowitzki and tapped him on the head in front of the scorer's table before tipoff.
There had been hopes that Nowitzki could play when the team upgraded his status to day-to-day following his 45-minute workout Tuesday. That optimism seem to fade after the reigning MVP took part in the morning shootaround, then dejectedly said he wasn't sure about his status.
When coach Avery Johnson spoke to the media 90 minutes before the game, he said Nowitzki would warm up on the team's practice court out of public view and then be evaluated by doctors. Everything apparently went OK.
After losing to San Antonio in the game Nowitzki got hurt, the Mavericks went 2-2 without him.
Dallas went into Wednesday night's game in seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Denver and a game ahead of Golden State. The top eight teams make the playoffs. Dallas and Golden State each have seven games left after Wednesday.
Nowitzki had indicated after the shootaround that he wasn't ``quite at 85 percent,'' which is where he said he could be confident in his movement. Then he added, he knew he would have to come back and play soon.
``Given the situation we're in, basically tied with three teams for the playoffs, I might have to come back a little earlier,'' he said. ``I think if I wait until I'm 100 percent, I think the regular season will be over,'' he said. ``But like I said, I don't want to play where it really slows me down.''
Dallas was definitely without Jerry Stackhouse, who has a groin injury. Johnson said Stackhouse had an MRI and would be out at least a week, maybe 10 days.
``It's a tough break for us because we thought he was playing some of his best basketball,'' Johnson said. ``He was passing the ball really well, shooting it pretty good. He had some pretty good games for us.''
Stackhouse missed his third straight game.

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