By Charlie Zegers
RotoWire Staff Writer
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.
Around the League:
Every week, we'll use this space to track players whose fantasy value is improving, declining, or uncertain. We're not particularly concerned with hot or cold streaks - all players toss up a 2-for-10 every now and again - unless they are extreme or seem to indicate an underlying problem or injury. Instead, we'll be looking at changes in playing time or role or skill level. Comments and questions are always welcome - just post 'em on the message board at the bottom of this page.
Al Jefferson (MIN): When reports that Jefferson's production had declined due to "fatigue," most thought the T-Wolves were prepping to sit their franchise player for the rest of the year in the hopes of improving their lottery standing. Not so. Randy Wittman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "...You've gotta learn to play through that. This is the first time he's played this many games." So look for Big Al to be in the lineup for the rest of the year, though his production might drop off slightly from his established norms of this season.
Elton Brand (LAC): Proving that his emotional return (and the numbers he posted in that game) is no fluke, Brand has followed it up with two more near double-doubles – including a 19-and-8 in a loss to the Rockets on Sunday. Crazy as it seems, it looks safe to play him as you would have if he'd never hurt himself in the offseason.
Vladimir Radmanovic (LAL): With Luke Walton nursing a sore hamstring, Radmanovic had a huge game on Sunday – 21 points and 14 boards in 35 minutes. Don't expect that sort of production from him - well, ever - but do look for better-than-usual numbers while Walton heals.
Mike Miller (MEM): Miller had a huge game on Sunday against the T-Wolves, exploding for 34 points (12-20 FG, 8-12 3pt, 2-2 FT) to go with 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. He hadn't topped the 20-point mark since March 21st. Unfortunately, it's impossible to say if the game was an aberration or if he's corrected some sort of issue that was causing his sub-par production – for now we'll simply call it an encouraging sign.
Josh Powell (LAC): Starting in place of Chris Kaman (ankle, see below) for the last three games, Powell is averaging a double-double – including a career-high 22 points in Sunday's game. Kaman may or may not return, so Powell might be a very nice pickup for the last week-plus of the season.
Wilson Chandler (NYK): Apparently there's at least one Knick that's interested in making a good first impression on his new boss. Rookie Chandler posted a team-and-career-high 23 points in Sunday's win over Orlando.
Spencer Hawes (SAC): With Brad Miller sidelined once again (see below), Hawes moves up to the Kings' top five. The rookie has been productive in that role, averaging 12.3 points and 10.6 boards as a starter.
Ron Artest (SAC): A thumb injury kept Artest from the lineup for just one game, but it seemed to affect his shot on Sunday – he was just 7-of-20 from the floor. Unfortunately, Ron-ron's not terribly conservative with his shot selection, even when 100 percent healthy, so don't be surprised to see some shaky percentages in his next few games.
Luke Walton (LAL): Missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury and is considered day-to-day. Walton hasn't been much of a fantasy force this season regardless – his presence in the lineup is really only noteworthy as it affects Vladimir Radmanovic's minutes.
Rafer Alston (HOU): Skip-to-my-Lou hasn't been skipping to anything recently, missing three straight games with a hamstring injury. Rocket coach Rick Adelman hopes to get his point guard back in action for Tuesday's game, but that's far from a sure thing.
Corey Maggette (LAC): Maggette left Sunday's game with a strained hamstring and is expected to miss 2-3 games.
Morris Almond (UTA): Here's one rookie who won't be getting an extended look down the stretch – Almond has been assigned to the Utah Flash of the D-League.
Javaris Crittendon (MEM): Crittendon's recent hot streak may come to a screeching halt due to a thumb injury sustained during Sunday's game. At this point it's not clear if he'll miss time – meaning zero production – or if he'll try to play through what's being called a "bad sprain" of his right thumb – which might mean decreased production.
Chris Kaman (LAC): Kaman has missed three straight games with a sprained ankle. He's reportedly planning on returning before the season finale, but coach Mike Dunleavy may be planning on using Kaman's absence to give Josh Powell (see above) an extended look.
Brad Miller (SAC): Miller suffered a leg injury during Thursday's game and hasn't played since. There's at least a chance that the team will let him heal and give Spencer Hawes the starting gig for the last few games of the year.
Joel Przybilla (POR): Przybilla broke his hand while attempting to block a shot in Sunday's game, and will miss the remainder of the season. From Henry Abbott at True Hoop, we have word that Portland's trainer might not be terribly disappointed about that.
This is the last Barometer of the regular season, so it seems appropriate to thank all of the RotoWire writers – without whom this column would be much, much harder to put together each week.
To get a jump on next season: Derrick Rose's stock couldn't be much higher, but Michael Beasley strikes me as a guy who will need to adjust his game slightly when he stops being the most athletic guy on the court.
Enjoy the playoffs.
Article first appeared on 4/8/08