Daily Confidential

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks seek a seventh straight victory Tuesday night when they try to remain perfect against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Nowitzki returned from a sprained left ankle to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds in a 115-83 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. He sat out the final three quarters of Wednesday night's victory over Seattle with the ankle injury, and the Mavericks (20-7) were worried the superstar would be out for an extended stretch.

When he was able to warm up without any setback, however, Nowitzki gave the go-ahead to be included in the lineup.

``I actually decided right before the game,'' Nowitzki said. ``I worked out this morning and felt OK. Before the game, the ankle was a little stiff so I wasn't sure, but felt good during the warmup.''

Dallas expects top reserve Jerry Stackhouse to return Tuesday. Stackhouse sat out Friday with a sprained left ankle of his own and is listed as day to day.

``We were really concerned to not have Stackhouse tonight,'' Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. ``Stackhouse is one of our top players but we were fortunate to get past the Clippers, and hopefully we will have him back right after Christmas.''

Dallas is trying to improve to 6-0 against the Bobcats (7-19), who are in their third season. The Mavs won 90-76 in Charlotte on Nov. 20 as Nowitzki had 24 points and 14 rebounds while Stackhouse added 15 points.

Johnson is pleased with the improvement his team continues to show on defense. The defending Western Conference champions are allowing 92.8 points per game - sixth-best in the league.

Since giving up 101 points to the Los Angeles Lakers to open their current six-game winning streak, the Mavericks have held the opposition to an average of 85.4 points.

``We said it from day one that we knew we had to be a good defensive ballclub,'' Johnson said. ``Maybe not top in the league, you want to be number one, but we thought we would have to be one of the top teams in the league in defense and one of the top clubs in rebounding to have a chance to win a championship.''

Charlotte is averaging an Eastern Conference-low 92.2 points per game.

The Bobcats fell to 2-10 on the road Saturday as they suffered their most lopsided loss of the season, 115-76 at Chicago.

``This was our worst game,'' forward Emeka Okafor said. ``Usually, we match teams' energy and intensity, but we didn't do that tonight.''

The Bobcats shot 35.6 percent - their lowest effort on the road - and turned the ball over 19 times to lead to 26 points for Chicago.

``Our shot selection was poor and led to fast breaks going the other way,'' coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. ``Our shot selection wasn't good and it cost us.''

Struggling rookie Adam Morrison made 3-of-13 shots for six points. He's averaging 10.0 points on 31.5 percent shooting over his last four games, and the 6-foot-8 forward has grabbed a total of only nine rebounds in that span.

The Bobcats are hoping point guard Brevin Knight will be available. Knight sat out Saturday after he aggravated a strained right groin the previous night in a victory over Utah.

Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited