Around the Rim: Welcome back


1. Dirk Nowitzki does his best Willis Reed impersonation
Dirk Nowitzki knew that he team was circling the drain while he rode the pine with a leg injury, so on Wednesday night, the German sharpshooter decided to suit up and help his team climb out of the toilet. It worked. For the first time since acquiring Jason Kidd, the Mavericks defeated a team with a winning record and they did so in convincing fashion, stomping a mud hole in their bitter rivals from Golden State. Nowitzki finished with 18 points and Jason Terry posted a game-high 31 as Dallas cruised to an easy 111-86 victory. The Warriors just could not find their offense, needing 86 attempts to tally 86 points while the Mavs drained 48 percent of their field goals. Led by Kidd’s 17 dimes, Dallas finished with a whopping 35 assists compared to Golden State’s 10 and killed the normally up-tempo Warriors in fastbreak points, 44-16.

2. Brand new

After missing nearly a year of action, Elton Brand is back. The mild-mannered, double-double machine took to the court against the Sonics on Wednesday evening and posted 19 points – 13 in the fourth quarter – and five rebounds to help the Clippers pound Seattle 102-84. Brand went down with a torn left Achilles back on April 18, 2007, and wasn’t expected to return until Thursday, but he felt so good before the game that coach Mike Dunleavy decided to go ahead and give him some minutes; 26 to be exact. Kevin Durant had one of his best games, finishing with 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting, but it couldn’t overshadow the play of Brand. In addition to his points and boards, Brand dished out three assists, blocked a shot and tallied a steal.

3. Lakers get their groove back
The Lakers got a boost of their own last night as Pau Gasol returned to the lineup and posted 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists in a 104-91 victory over Portland. Gasol had been out of action due to a sprained ankle he suffered nearly three weeks ago. Kobe Bryant racked up 14 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 13 rebounds to help his squad pull within 1 ½ games of first place New Orleans. The Lakers lost four of nine games without Gasol after posting a 15-4 record following his acquisition. The return is huge for a relatively small lineup in L.A., but the key for any sort of Lakers postseason success lies in the return of center Andrew Bynum. As of now, Los Angeles is hoping and praying the big man is healthy enough to get some critical minutes before the second season starts.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Kobe Bryant vs. Portland 41 min, 36 pts (FG: 10-16, 3FG: 4-5, FT: 12-13), 13 reb, 7 ast, 3 stl

Thursday’s Game to Watch: Houston (49-25) @ Portland (38-37)
Hey, on a night when Cleveland plays Chicago and the Clippers face the Kings, we decided to choose the lesser of three evils. Houston continues to flounder since running off 22 consecutive wins and they are now on a two-game losing streak and have lost five of its last 10 games. Portland isn’t much better, dropping three in a row and six of its last 10. Luckily, Inside the NBA comes on tonight and we’ll get to hear Charles Barkley rip both of these clubs for being as soft as his belly.

Buzzer Beater: On a night when injured players returned left and right, we would be remiss to not mention the comeback of Gilbert Arenas. Agent 0 missed 66 games with a knee injury before scoring 17 points against the Bucks on Wednesday. Unfortunately for Arenas, his return was overshadowed by Ramon Sessions and his buzzer-beater that gave Milwaukee a 110-109 victory. And the bad night didn’t stop there for Washington. Right when it appeared the Wizards were back to full capacity, new injuries to key components took their toll. Antawn Jamison left the game with a sprained right shoulder and the thickly bearded DeShawn Stevenson exited with a sprained right ankle.

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