DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The Dallas Mavericks lead the NBA in different starting lineups with 15. But Saturday night at the AAC comes the most newsworthy, intriguing and important change of all: Dirk Nowitzki will make his season-debut as a first-teamer.

“We just feel it’s time for him to do that,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle as the club prepared for its visit from the New Orleans Hornets.

Dirk Nowitzki will get his first start of the season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when the Mavericks play host to the Hornets at the American Airlines Center.

“We’re going to start Dirk tonight,’’ Carlisle said, an announcement that marks a milestone in The UberMan’s recovery from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on October 19. It’s been a slow climb; while returning to action during a difficult stretch in the Mavs’ schedule, Dirk has played six games. Dallas is 1-5 in those games, with Nowitzki averaging 10 points per in 22 minutes of play.

On Wednesday, Dirk played in the second night of a back-to-back in Miami and the One-Legged Euro LeanBack was on full display. The 11-time All-Star played 29 minutes and scored 19 points in helping Dallas to take Miami to OT before losing.

“I finished the other game (against Miami), felt decent for the 30 minutes I was out there,’’ Dirk said on Friday. “That’s really the major thing. Whether I’m starting or not really doesn’t matter.’’

Ah, but it does. It matters to the audience, and it figures to matter to the emotion of a team that has struggled to a 13-20 record during which Dirk has either been absent or Dirk hasn’t been Dirk.

The work of trainer Casey Smith and staff, plus the supervision of flannel-shirted mentor Holger Geschwindner, have been key in the comeback. Starting a game is key, too.

“It’s just part of the process of re-integration,” Carlisle said. “We just feel like we’re at the point where it’s time to do that, and he feels the same way.”

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