Dirk Nowitzki has trouble describing exactly how his sprained left knee feels. He just knows it doesn't feel the way it should.
So, even though the Dallas Mavericks' leading scorer and rebounder says it will be a game-time decision whether he plays tonight against the San Antonio Spurs, he added it would take a drastic improvement for him to be on the court for Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
"I don't really have pain. It doesn't really hurt. But I can feel that something is not right with my knee," Nowitzki said Monday. "If I have that again tomorrow, I'm not going to play.
"To me, it's got to feel right. If I have any doubts that I can't push off, or have thoughts that I can't get out of my head, then I'm not going to play."
Mavericks coach Don Nelson was hoping Nowitzki would at least be able to play 3-on-3 Monday. He couldn't, partly because he pushed himself too hard on Sunday. Nowitzki worked out before Game 4 in hopes of making it into the lineup just two days after being injured. But he wasn't able to run or jump, so he watched San Antonio's 102-95 victory from a seat near the Dallas bench.
The Mavs didn't miss the 25.3 points and 11.5 rebounds Nowitzki has averaged this postseason. For the first 2 1/2 quarters, Dallas' small lineup built a nine-point lead. Then San Antonio rallied and led the entire fourth quarter.
When Dallas began to rally in the final period, Nowitzki stood and cheered until he felt the knee "getting weak and starting to shake." He wasn't much stronger Monday, even asking to sit while being interviewed.
"It was smart not to play," Nowitzki said. "Who knows what would've happened? The risk is extremely high. When a knee is fatigued, the whole body tries to strengthen around it. You start to run differently and the next thing you know you tear something else in your body or pull a muscle.
"I'm only 24 years old. I've got a lot of basketball left. If I was 33, 34, 35, I probably would've played. But this is just the beginning of my career."
San Antonio leads the series 3-1. A win in Game 5 would put the Spurs into the NBA Finals. Should Dallas force a sixth game, it would be Thursday night in Dallas. Nowitzki said his availability would still be a game-time decision.
"I think the longer the series goes, the more chance Dirk has to play," Nelson said.
Nowitzki was injured late in Game 3 on Friday night. An MRI exam on Saturday showed the kind of damage that would typically keep someone out 10-to-14 days. Nonetheless, he underwent about six hours of treatment in hopes of defying the odds.
"I don't think we could've done more than we really did," Nowitkzi said. "It just takes time to heal. But we don't have time right now.''
As the Mavs begin their quest to become only the seventh NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit, they have some recent history on their side, at least for Game 5.
Dallas has lost three straight since winning the series opener. The Mavs haven't lost four straight since March 2000.
ESPN will show Dallas at San Antonio live at 9am today.