The trade-off worked out just fine for Dallas.
Wright led the Mavericks with 19 points, Jose Calderon got the offense going early and finished with 18, and Dallas shrugged off the absence of Nowitzki and coach Rick Carlisle to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 106-93 Saturday night.
Nowitzki and Carlisle missed the game with an undisclosed illness. Carlisle has been fighting an upper respiratory problem since before a four-game road trip that started last week.
Wright, who missed the first 23 games with a shoulder injury, scored seven straight points in a 19-5 run that put Dallas in control, 43-26, early in the second quarter.
"I'm going to be aggressive either way it goes," said Wright, who was 9 of 10 from the floor and added six rebounds in 19 minutes. "If Dirk plays or Monta (Ellis) plays or none of those guys play, I've got to play the same way. I've got to play hard."
John Henson had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bucks, who fell behind by 34 late in the third quarter before rallying in the fourth to make the final score respectable.
O.J. Mayo, who played despite the recent death of his grandmother, had four points on 1-of-6 shooting in his first game in Dallas against his former team since signing with the Bucks as a free agent last summer.
"We came in here and laid an egg," Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said. "We didn't play well. We had very low energy, which was disappointing."
Nowitzki and Carlisle missed the shootaround earlier Saturday and weren't at American Airlines Center for the game. The Mavericks don't play again until Wednesday, so they should have plenty of time to recover.
Even without their star and their coach, the Mavericks were never in much trouble with assistant Monte Mathis in charge.
Dallas didn't even need much from Ellis, the team's leading scorer. He had seven points and five assists and essentially deferred to Calderon, who had 16 points at halftime on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
"Very important, especially with Monta kind of feeling things out and not getting some of the opportunities that he typically has, it's good for another guy to step up and be aggressive," Mathis said.
The biggest decision for Mathis was whether to bring back any other starters after the Bucks went on a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter and eventually got within 13 in the final 2 minutes.
Mathis did reinsert DeJuan Blair after Wright had returned, and the Mavericks kept the lead in double digits.
"One or two more baskets," Mathis said of how tempting it was to go with Ellis and Calderon again. "We didn't want to get them in there. We wanted our other guys to finish it out."
Brandon Knight scored 16 for Milwaukee, but only four after the first quarter.
"We came out flat," Henson said of the Bucks, who lost by a point to Chicago at home a night earlier and have played five sets of back-to-back games in their last 10. "The combination of these games and the travel, I think we kind of hit that wall."
Wright grabbed two quick rebounds after coming in midway through the first quarter and finished the first half with 11 points and five rebounds in 10 minutes.
The highlight for Wright was a putback dunk for a 79-51 lead in the third. Just 3 minutes later, Blair gave the Mavericks their biggest lead at 90-56 on a jumper. Blair had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Samuel Dalembert, signed in the offseason to be the starting center for the Mavericks, was the only Dallas player who didn't get off the bench.
For Dalembert, it was something of a replay of his one season with Milwaukee, when he went through a long midseason stretch without playing and got into just one of the last 11 games.
Bucks G Carlos Delfino had surgery on his right foot performed by Dr. Donato Villani in Argentina. There is no timetable for the 31-year-old's return. ... Carlisle missed a game for the first time since the franchise's only championship season of 2010-11. He missed a Dec. 27 victory at Oklahoma City a day after having arthroscopic knee surgery. Assistant Dwane Casey, now the head coach in Toronto, filled in then. ... Bucks G Gary Neal left late in the second quarter with plantar fasciitis and didn't return.