DALLAS - Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki was on the floor with his teammates during a morning shoot around Monday, but he wasn't preparing for that night's game against the Suns.

Instead, his job now is to spend a few days to get in shape and rehab an injured knee.

Well, he needs work, said Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. He needs work and he's got to resolve the thing with the knee and some conditioning things, and that's it. I m done talking about it.

Nowitzki has already missed one game and will be continue to be out for the next three. The plan now calls for him to be out of the lineup until the Spurs come to town Sunday.

When you're beat up, you're beat up, said Mavericks forward Shawn Marion. It is what it is. When you get certain injuries, you've got to take time to heal from them.

A former teammate said Nowitzki's offseason probably played a role in his diminished conditioning.

I just think obviously the playoff run and playing the European qualifiers and then a long break, I just think it was a recipe for this sort of situation, said Suns guard Steve Nash.

The Mavericks aren't the same without their Finals MVP and it s not just Dallas. The compressed schedule has created a league of tired players.

Even being in shape, if you play three games in a row and after that, you have to play a back to back, you're susceptible to injury even if you are in shape, said Mavericks forward Lamar Odom.

Coaches are carefully watching the trend.

Our scoring is down almost eleven points a game, and it's that way around the league, said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. There are two teams in the NBA that are averaging 100 points. All the field goal percentages are down. So, the quality of play has suffered a little bit.

But the Mavs head coach would not make any excuses about the long layoff and hectic start to the year.

I m not going to bitch about the schedule, Carlisle said. Our minutes are well below where we had even projected, and we had projected that we would have to play guys less. And so we'll deal with it.

The Mavericks are the oldest team in the league - their starting five on opening day had an average age of 34. That adds even more burden on a team that's trying to keep up with an unforgiving schedule.


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