Dallas Mavericks

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.

NBA General

Around the Rim: The NBA’s call was too sweet to resist

Kevin Durant has millions of
reasons to leave his coach
and school behind.

1. The NBA hooks Durant
Kevin Durant was only at Texas for one year, but that was all it took for the 6-9 forward to become the elite of the Big 12 Conference, as well as the NCAA. Now, Durant has made his intentions public as he threw his hat into the NBA draft pool with the worst case scenario being selected as a second pick. There is no way that Durant can improve on his current standing as the recipient of every major national award while he rewrote the Texas record books. The only question left is if the nation’s other freshman phenom, Greg Oden, will be joining Durant in the upcoming draft. If Oden decides to make the jump, he will probably be selected first by most teams based on his defensive potential, but don’t get fooled into thinking that only the sorry teams will have a shot a the young `ens. Plenty of franchises will be dying to put together deals for this year’s exceptional cornerstone pieces.

2. NJ has pieces, just not the passion

The Nets have got to be one of the most pathetic franchises in recent history. Despite having a starting lineup that is stacked with three of the most athletic players the league has and being in a position where they are close to losing their current playoff spot, the Nets can’t put away the injury plagued Wizards until 30 seconds remain in the game. But regardless of the aesthetic quality of the win, the Nets still came out of the contest with a much needed victory and can now breathe a sigh of relief as it looks like they have virtually secured a post season berth. But if NJ is having trouble putting away a demolished Washington crew, how are they possibly going to handle a healthy Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto or Miami club? Easy answer, they’re not.

3. Bonsai! Bonzi bails
Bonzi Wells left the Rockets high and dry on Monday night when he simply didn’t show up for the team’s road game against the Sonics. Wells reportedly didn’t want to be a further distraction to the team and basically bailed on his boys without even telling his coach what was up. “He’s not here tonight. I don’t know where he’s at. I haven’t talked to him,” Van Gundy said. “I want to make sure he’s safe first.” Don’t worry coach, the only danger Wells faced was a possible brain freeze as he lounges back with some ice cream and a remote control. Wells had been in the dog house all season because of his lack of fitness after he was expected to be the X-factor for the Rockets. But now, he’s just destined to be an ex-Rocket.

Tuesday’s Player of the Day: Elton Brand @ New Orleans 45 min, 37 pts (FG: 15-23, FT: 7-9), 10 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk

Wednesday’s Game to Watch: Denver (41-36) @ Utah (48-29) The Nuggets have gained some late season momentum and are now rolling on a six game win streak as they prepare to unleash Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson on their playoff opponent. Utah on the other hand needs to grab a victory if they don’t want to be the victim of circumstance by winning their division but losing home-court advantage in the first round to Houston. The Jazz are the only team besides the Lakers in the West who are currently riding a losing streak. With four inexcusable losses over the past week, Utah is definitely due for a dominating performance and their 19-8 home record can only help their cause.

Buzzer Beater: Adam Morrison had a bit of a meltdown during the Bobcats 111-103 victory over the Heat in overtime on Sunday. But it wasn’t an on-court dumb decision that made Morrison look like a fool. No it was an on-bench hand gesture that got the rookie in hot water. Apparently some dude kept calling Morrison “white trash,” and eventually the cry baby, adolescent mustache sporting Morrison shot the bird to the heckler in the stands. The Charlotte big wigs fined Morrison $25,000 for his actions, but you can’t really blame Morrison for getting frustrated. However, you’d expect that he could handle the ribbing because with facial hair like his, teasing should be second nature by this point.