February 17, 2015

DALLAS (AP) Rajon Rondo is ready to return for Dallas after missing the last six games before the All-Star break with a broken bone near his left eye.

Amare Stoudemire is a day closer to joining the Mavericks after the last-place Knicks turned him loose with a buyout.

Let the latest makeover of the Mavericks begin, or continue, or whatever might be the best way to describe a team that changed significantly in the summer and again in December, and now waits to see how the addition of another former All-Star will alter things.

''Nothing happens overnight in this game,'' said Rondo, who came to Dallas in a December trade with Boston. ''It takes some time. It takes some work. Takes a lot of practice.''

The Mavericks don't really have the luxury of time in the relentless fight for playoff positioning in the Western Conference. They start the stretch run Thursday with hard-charging Oklahoma City, followed by NBA scoring leader James Harden and Houston in a back-to-back.

''We have some work to do,'' coach Rick Carlisle said Tuesday after the first post-break practice. ''We had a lot of new guys coming in this year, then we had a major trade and now possibly another acquisition. There's a lot going on.''

Dallas has to get healthy first, and the break seemed to help. Rondo will play against the Thunder, but hasn't decided whether to use a mask after his face collided with teammate Richard Jefferson's knee against Orlando on Jan. 31.

Center Tyson Chandler (ankle) and guard Monta Ellis (hip) were injured just minutes apart in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last week. Ellis surprisingly returned two nights later, while Chandler went through part of Tuesday's practice and could play against Oklahoma City.

If Chandler returns and Stoudemire clears waivers, the Mavericks will get their first look at how the six-time All-Star fits in a frontcourt that includes Dirk Nowitzki.

But there's also the question of how one of the best pick-and-roll big men will fit with Rondo and Monta Ellis, Dallas' leading scorer who thrives in the pick-and-roll as well.

''He's an All-Star, maybe a future Hall of Famer, and he's been in the game for a long time,'' said Rondo, a former Eastern Conference opponent who says he used to talk to Stoudemire about the possibility of playing together. ''So it won't take him a long time to adjust. I'm not worried about Amare.''

Dallas went after Rondo for defense as well, and he held Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook to 6-of-23 shooting in a win for the Mavericks 10 days after the trade. Now Westbrook is coming off a 41-point performance that earned him All-Star MVP honors Sunday in New York.

''Yeah, I got Westbrook and then I got Harden next night, so it's part of coming out here in the West,'' Rondo said.

The Mavericks (36-19) are in a tightly packed race for two of the playoff spots that hold home-court advantage in the first round. There are five teams separated by just two games, all in solid shape to make the playoffs but looking to climb.

It doesn't get any easier for Dallas after the quick back-to-back coming out of the break. The Mavericks get East-leading Atlanta on the back end of two straight games next week, and it's the fifth game in eight days.

The following week, they have Portland and West-leading Golden State in consecutive nights on the road.

''Second half is going to be our biggest test,'' Ellis said. ''We've got to fight through fatigue, teams get better. And Rondo get back and Ty get back and we can get this team back together and try to make a run.''

Oh, and toss Stoudemire in that mix now, too.

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