Around the Rim: Welcomed back with a win


1. The race is on!
The Dallas Mavericks’ playoff hopes took a serious hit on Thursday after Denver grabbed a 118-105 victory in the Mile High City. As of now, Dallas is still sitting in the seventh slot out West, but it’s just a hair away from falling completely out as the Nuggets, currently in ninth, closed the gap to a single game. Carmelo Anthony (32 points) and Allen Iverson (31 points) both went off offensively, allowing Denver to pull away in the fourth quarter. Despite the big night for the team’s dynamic duo, they weren’t the big story of the game. With 1:17 left in the game, Nene took to the court for the first time in over two months after he underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his testicle.

I survived, I’m still here,” he said. “I’m a new man, stronger than ever, I just say, ‘Thank you, everybody.’

2. One, two, three, four and counting

It wasn’t too long ago that Detroit and Miami were the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference. Boy, oh, boy; how quickly things can change in the NBA. The Pistons ran all over the Heat on Thursday to the tune of an 85-69 thumping in Detroit. With the victory, the Pistons locked up their fourth consecutive division title and became just the sixth team since the merger to win that many in a row. The last to do so was Utah, owning the division crown from 1996-97 until 1999-2000. And the Bad Boys didn’t even need Richard Hamilton to get the job done. Chauncey Billups finished with 13 points and 11 assists to compliment four other Pistons with double-digit scoring nights. Arron Afflalo replaced Hamilton in the starting five and racked up a career-high 15 points in the win.

3. The Warrior’s way
The Warriors needed a win to stay ahead of Denver for the final playoff spot in the West and against Portland last night they got it. Golden State exploded for 40 points in the third quarter, propelling it to a 111-95 win over the Brandon Roy-less Blazers. Roy didn’t even make the trip, opting to watch from afar as he nursed his sore groin (not like that your pervs!). Stephen Jackson scored 14 of his 24 points in the third and Monta Ellis had a great all-around game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. While the win allowed Denver to breathe easy for the night, they certainly don’t have much breathing room in an overcrowded playoff picture. Now the Warriors must prepare to play at Denver, San Antonio and Dallas in three of their next four games.

Thursday’s Player of the Day: Carmelo Anthony vs. Dallas 37 min, 32 pts (FG: 11-20, 3FG: 0-2, FT: 10-14), 10 reb, 8 ast, 2 stl

Friday’s Game to Watch: New Orleans (49-21) @ Boston (56-15)
If you look at the current chalk then this is going to be the matchup in the NBA Finals. Of course, that doesn’t mean much in a Western Conference that flip-flops more than Billy Donovan. However, it should be a compelling contest none the less as Boston tries to take care of its last major roadblock in an epic season. But don’t let the Celtics dominance over the West fool you because Chris Paul and his Hornets aren’t laying down for anyone. New Orleans is on a five-game win streak with an 8-2 record over its last 10 games.

Oh, and you do know the Sweet 16 is going down tonight too, right? Keep that remote control handy.

Buzzer Beater: You’d expect the Blazers to be thrilled that Greg Oden is feeling good enough to play in a pick-up game at an Oregon fitness facility. Wrong!

We heard about that, and I talked to him today,” coach Nate McMillan said. “I let him know he can’t do that.”

Oden is in the sixth month of his rehabilitation from microfracture surgery on his right knee. He is on schedule to return in time for training camp in October. Oden has been cleared to participate in light drills at practice and the team wants to control his running and jumping.

“I know he is excited to be moving again, but as I talked to him about it he said ‘Coach, I promise I wasn’t running hard …’. And I was like — ‘I really don’t care’,”‘ McMillan said. “The thing is, we were surprised. So we let him know that he doesn’t need to be there. We have plenty of workout equipment and gym space at our facility.

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