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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Shades of Willis Reed

Dirk Nowitzki's return from injury has been nothing short of amazing.

When the diagnosis "high ankle sprain" was announced, most observers assumed Nowitzki would be – at the very least – hobbled for the rest of the regular season. The "two week" estimate for his return was viewed with skepticism – if not outright mockery. But Nowitzki made his surprise return to the lineup a mere 10 days later.

And the Nowitzki we're seeing isn't hobbling around like Kirk Gibson on ruined knees in the World Series. He's playing at – or above – his season averages. On a per-game basis since his return, Nowitzki's averaging 25.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. For the season: 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds.

More importantly, he's leading the Mavs to wins. Dallas is in the midst of a brutal stretch of schedule that will decide whether or not they make the playoffs in an unforgiving Western Conference. They've won two of three games since Nowitzki's return, beating the Warriors on April 2nd and the Suns on Sunday (with a loss at the Lakers in between). Those two wins are Dallas' only two over winning teams since the acquisition of Jason Kidd at the trade deadline.

As I write, the Mavs are in seventh place in the West, two games ahead of Golden State and Denver, with five games remaining. Their remaining games: Seattle (home), Utah (home), Portand (away), Seattle (away) and New Orleans (home) -- that's two must-wins over a bad Sonics team and three more chances to improve that record against winning teams. If they can close out the season on a high – maybe upset the Spurs in a first-round matchup – we might start talking about Dirk's ankle the way we talk about Willis' knees or Schilling's bloody sock.

Story continues on RotoWire...


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