Dirk Nowitzki didn't play long against Washington. But he did play well in those 17 minutes. The step-back jumper? Check. The post-up punctuated by a one-legged fadeaway? Check. The 3-pointer? Yep, got that, too. Nowitzki had his smoothest-looking night of the season since returning before Christmas from knee surgery. He knocked in five of seven shots, had 11 points and floated around the court like he usually does. Not bad for his fifth game back. "Today definitely was better," he said. "I was shooting the ball well in warm-ups, had a little more spring than last week. So working in the right direction, at least." The down side: "Three or four minutes out there and I'm gassed. I just have to work on my stamina." For that reason, don't expect to see Nowitzki bump up his minutes a long way or jump into the starting lineup anytime soon. "I think the key right now is his conditioning," coach Rick Carlisle said. "When he gets warmed up and loose, he moves well, then the key is to get him out for a break, but not to let him sit too long, because any veteran player sits too long, he's going to stiffen up." As Darren Collison said, the Mavericks were built to have Dirk Nowitzki as the hub and with solid spokes — or supporting players — to work off of him.