DALLAS (AP) -The unexpected return of Dirk Nowitzki helped the stumbling Dallas Mavericks find the swagger that made them an NBA finalist last year.
The 111-89 blowout of Golden State on Wednesday night was a stunning reversal for a squad that had gone 0-10 against winning teams since acquiring Jason Kidd and slid down the playoff standings in March. It was Dallas' first losing month since 2000, when the Mavericks last missed the postseason.
Nowitzki didn't practice Thursday after his early return from a high ankle sprain, but coach Avery Johnson said he looked ``pretty good.''
``The word 'swagger' has several letters in it, and we just don't want to stop on the 's','' Johnson said. ``We need to keep going consistently.''
Johnson used another ``s'' word - steel - to describe Nowitzki. The big German had 18 points and five rebounds in nearly 27 minutes, but there's not a stat sheet anywhere that describes how the reigning MVP was most valuable against the Warriors.
A dejected-looking Nowitzki told reporters hours before the Golden State game that he didn't think he'd be ready to go. Maybe he was sandbagging. Or maybe he had time to realize that a loss to the Warriors would have been the sixth loss in eight games with visits to the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix up next.
``Just seeing Dirk out there gave us a lot of life,'' said Josh Howard, who averaged 30 points in the four games Nowitzki missed and scored 28 Wednesday. ``His presence is big on this team, and we came out and played hard for him.''
A loss would have left Dallas tied with Golden State in the three-team scrum for the final two Western Conference playoff spots (Denver is the other). The Mavericks haven't escaped the jam, but they're two games up on the Warriors, tiebreaker in hand, with seven games remaining.
The win was also a small measure of payback for the Mavericks after Golden State ruined their 67-win season with a first-round upset last year. That loss was so devastating it led to claims that the Warriors' Don Nelson used ``confidential information'' from his days as Dallas coach to orchestrate the stunner.
If the Warriors miss the playoffs, they'll look to this game as the reason. But Nelson was still in a good enough mood to use a joke to reflect the game's magnitude.
``I'm very upset,'' Nelson said. ``Avery Johnson had inside information. He used to play for Golden State, and he knew too much about what we were going to do.''
Johnson asked his other leaders - Kidd, Howard and Jason Terry - to play like Nowitzki was still out. Kidd (17 assists, 11 rebounds) and Howard did. Terry didn't, but that was a good thing.
The shooting guard made just 18 of 48 shots while Nowitzki was out before going 11-of-21 with a game-high 31 points against the Warriors.
``There was a Terry sighting for the first time in a while,'' Nowitzki said.
The Nowitzki sighting caused the greatest buzz, though. Johnson was still talking about the crowd's reaction to Nowitzki's pregame introduction.
``This guy is a man of steel,'' Johnson said. ``That was the loudest ovation that I've ever heard for him last night, since I played or now coaching.''
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