DALLAS Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks is out indefinitely with a moderate high ankle sprain and a mildly sprained knee.
It's a blow to the Mavericks' title hopes and perhaps their chances of even making the playoffs. The team announced the diagnosis after the reigning MVP got an MRI exam Monday, the day after he was injured during a game against San Antonio. He landed awkwardly on his left leg after running to block a shot.
Nowitzki said he's hoping to be out only one or two weeks. The regular season ends three weeks from Wednesday.
"I'm trying to see the positive and it could've been a lot worse," Nowitzki said, wearing a protective boot on his left ankle. "It could've been a season-ending injury or even career-ending."
He said the ankle and knee are both still stiff. He's trying to reduce swelling by putting them in ice every two hours, even when he sleeps. Doctors will check him out again Tuesday, then set a rehabilitation plan.
"Hopefully I can move where I can already go on the underwater treadmill a little bit in the next couple of days, so at least I can put some pressure on it and see how it feels," Nowitzki said.
Nowitzki has had plenty of traditional ankle sprains, but never a "high" one, which is closer to the shin. Local sports fans became familiar with the injury a few months ago, when Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens was out for three weeks then returned for the playoffs.
"Usually I'm good with recovering from injuries," Nowitzki said. "I know I'm not 20 any more, but I still feel young, my body feels young. So hopefully I can recover pretty quick."
Nowitzki is seventh in the league at 23.6 points per game this season. He's also the team leader in rebounds (8.8) and averaging a career-best 3.6 assists.
Dallas' playoff chances have been slipping even with Nowitzki.
The Mavs (44-26) have lost three straight and are only 9-8 since adding Jason Kidd. They took a half-game lead over Golden State for the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference on Monday night.
Dallas also must keep an eye on Denver (42-28), which is closing in on a playoff spot. The Nuggets play at Memphis on Monday night.
"Everybody just has to pick up his game," Kidd said. "We have to do it as a team. That's the beauty of this right now. We're confident that we can do it without Dirk until he gets better."
The Mavericks have 12 games left, starting Tuesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. They'll play at Denver on Thursday and at Golden State on Sunday. If Nowitzki is out only two weeks, he could return for the final five games, starting April 8 against Seattle.
Losing a superstar isn't always as dooming as it seems. The Rockets won 10 of their 22 straight after Yao Ming was hurt.
"Every team is different, but I think we can rally around it," Nowitzki said. "We're deep enough, hopefully everybody else will stay healthy and we'll be all right."
Nowitzki's injury could have international ramifications: Germany is among 12 national teams vying for the three remaining spots in the Olympics. The tournament is in July.
Dallas has won at least 52 games and made the playoffs every season since 2000-01, when Nowitzki became the focal point. He led the club in scoring for the first time that season and has done so every year since, including two years ago when the Mavericks made the NBA finals and last year when they won 67 games.
Dallas is 0-1 without Nowitzki this season, having lost to Houston earlier this month when the German was suspended.
"I think we were a little bit in a fog against the Rockets, but now that we know he's not coming back right now, hopefully guys won't look to the locker room," coach Avery Johnson said. "Hopefully that will help us in the way we mentally prepare for these games, knowing he's not coming back right and now we've got to go out and do the job without him."
Nowitzki has never missed more than six games in a season. His durability is a big reason why he recently became the leading scorer in team history.