Still, after missing the Dallas Mavericks' first 27 regular-season games, he didn't expect to take a seat on the bench after 20 minutes with the game completely out of hand.
"In the middle of the third we were down by 80, so I didn't really have to go back in," Nowitzki said, exaggerating the Mavs' largest deficit just a bit.
Danny Green scored a career-high 25 points and the Spurs spoiled Nowitzki's season debut with a 129-91 rout of the Mavericks.
San Antonio's largest lead was actually 46, but the deficit seemed larger to Dallas.
"We got a (butt-kicking), that's it," Shawn Marion said. "No need to explain it ... it was an old-fashioned (butt-kicking)."
The Spurs set a franchise record with 20 3-pointers, besting the record of 19 they set Dec. 8 in Charlotte. San Antonio also set a season high for largest margin of victory.
San Antonio also had 33 assists, a season-high 17 steals and forced 20 turnovers.
"We don't create that many turnovers normally," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "So that's a heck of a night for us as far as steals are concerned. That's not going to happen very often. We were fortunate it was one of those nights when your opponent has a bad night and you have a great night and it ends up like tonight."
It came on the night Nowitzki returned following surgery on his right knee Oct. 19 after battling soreness the previous season.
He entered with 6:28 left in the first quarter to a hearty mix of cheers and boos. The former MVP quickly picked up a rebound for Dallas and finished with eight points -- going 3 for 4 from the field -- and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
Nowitzki decided to play less than an hour before tipoff after testing the knee during practice last week.
"Before the game I felt decent, so I said I'm going to give it a go," Nowitzki said. "I felt actually good out there. I thought the wind was OK, but my legs were a little heavy there after a couple of trips up and down but I thought I fought through it OK."
Nowitzki's presence did little to stifle San Antonio's outside shooting. The Spurs were 20 from 30 from 3-point range and shot 56 percent from the field overall.
"Luckily it felt good tonight," Green said. "Some nights you have it and some nights you don't. Good thing we had it tonight. Not just myself, but everybody else on the team.
Green's seventh 3-pointer gave the Spurs a 77-57 lead with 7 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Spurs led by as many as 46, while the Mavs' lone lead came at 4-3 on Kaman's jumper with 10:30 left in the first quarter.
Tiago Splitter's dunk gave San Antonio a 100-66 lead at the close of the third. Splitter ran to the sideline after the dunk with a huge a smile, where he was immediately greeted with a low five by an equally happy Duncan.
Dallas was outscored 36-14 in the third quarter. San Antonio closed the quarter on a 31-9 run.
"We need to keep on working," Nowitzki said. "We've got a lot of areas to improve. We might not be as talented as some teams on the top, but if we're not, you have to make it up with how you play and compete and it's just not there."
Every active Spurs player scored and played at least eight minutes.
Spurs G Gary Neal left the game early in the fourth quarter with a strained right calf. His status is unknown. ...San Antonio has dominated Dallas at home, holding a 51-26 advantage against their intrastate rivals. ... Seven players have led the Spurs in individual scoring this season. ... San Antonio has had 12 players start this season, the most in the NBA. ... The Spurs lead the league in assists at 25.4 per game and the team's bench leads all reserves at 11.3. ... Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle let official Karl Lane know he was not happy with the officiating. "Does counting fouls lose you the game? It's so lopsided, it's ridiculous." The fouls were 8-4 in favor of the Spurs at that point. The Spurs closed the game with 22 fouls compared to 18 for the Mavericks.