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Dirk Nowitzki playing Sunday against San Antonio

By Royce Young | NBA writer

Merry Christmas, Mavericks. Dirk is back.

After missing all 27 of Dallas' games so far this season following a knee procedure, Dirk Nowitzki warmed up and will play Sunday against the Spurs.

Without Dirk, the Mavs have started the season 12-15.

Nowitzki will likely be on a minutes restriction as he eases back into game form. His role Sunday is expected to be limited action. But he is playing, which is much better than not.

Nowitzki, 34, went through his first full-contact practice last Wednesday, opening the possibility of a return sooner than later. He has been out since mid-October after having arthroscopic knee surgery. Just a couple of weeks ago, Dirk didn't sound very encouraged with his situation and hinted that he might not be able to return until 2013.

"I don't think the middle of December is happening now, to be honest," he said on Dec. 5.

It's technically late December, so I guess he was right. But a few weeks ago Dirk was not optimistic about returning before 2013. Now he's set to take the floor again -- and the Mavs can feel at least a little better.

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