NBA Today

NBA Today

NBA Today

Philadelphia at Atlanta (7:30 p.m. EDT). The Hawks lead the Pacers by four games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

STARS

-Tracy McGrady, Rockets, scored 26 of his 35 points in the second half to lead Houston to a 95-86 win over the Blazers.

GREAT LATE

Houston's Tracy McGrady scored 26 of his 35 points in the second half to lead Houston to a 95-86 win over the Blazers. The Rockets (50-25), once atop the Western Conference with a 22-game winning streak, are in a fifth-place tie with the Phoenix Suns.

SUSPENDED

Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin was suspended for one game without pay Thursday for exceeding the flagrant foul points total with five. Martin was assessed a flagrant foul-penalty one for striking Phoenix's Boris Diaw in the face Tuesday night in Denver's win over the Suns.

STRONG IN DEFEAT

LeBron James scored 33 points in the Cavaliers' 101-98 loss to the Bulls on Thursday night.

SNAPPED

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-98 on Thursday night to snap a six-game road losing streak.

SPEAKING

``There's going to be a team that wins 50 games and doesn't make the playoffs. So it's a battle out there. I love it.'' - Houston's Tracy McGrady on the Western Conference playoff race. McGrady scored 26 of his 35 points in the second half to lead Houston to a 95-86 win over the Blazers on Thursday night.

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Seattle signs Dupree to 10-day contract

SEATTLE (AP) -The Seattle SuperSonics signed Ronald Dupree to a 10-day contract after the team decided not to re-sign Eddie Gill after his 10-day deal expired.

Coach P.J. Carlesimo also said Thursday that center Mouhamed Sene was being sent back to Idaho of the NBA Development League for the remainder of the season.

Dupree played in one game earlier this season with the Detroit Pistons, after appearing in 19 games with the Pistons last year. He played in a total of 150 games over five seasons.

It will be Sene's third trip to Idaho this season. Carlesimo said Sene is expected to complete the regular season with the Stampede and then play in the D-League playoffs.

Sene has played in 13 games this season for the Sonics, averaging 2.3 points.

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Nowitzki, Gasol, Arenas back for playoff chase; Brand plays first game.

Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol were back on the court, testing their tender ankles in the tightly contested Western Conference playoff chase. Elton Brand made his return, too, long after the Clippers had been relegated to the role of spoiler.

In the Eastern Conference, Gilbert Arenas' dramatic return to the Wizards' lineup was spoiled by a rookie's wild shot.

Nowitzki scored 18 points in his unexpected start Wednesday night after missing four games with a high ankle sprain and helped the Mavericks beat the Golden State Warriors 118-86. With the win, Dallas, seventh in the Western Conference, moved a full game ahead of idle Denver and two games ahead of Golden State. Only the top eight teams make the playoffs.

``There was already a sense of urgency. ... And then seeing Dirk out there, it was very inspiring,'' said Jason Terry, who matched a season high with 31 points. ``We were very surprised to see him (start). But once we saw him out there joking and laughing and smiling, I knew he'd be OK.''

While Nowitzki was obviously not at the top of his game (6-for-15 shooting) during his 27 minutes, he twisted and turned moving to the basket several times and didn't appear to have any significant problems with his ankle.

``I wasn't moving great out there. I was catching and shooting, or posting up and letting other guys do the work,'' he said.

In Los Angeles, Gasol had 10 points in his first game in nearly three weeks, Kobe Bryant scored 14 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter and the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 104-91 to remain 1 1/2 games behind New Orleans and a game back of San Antonio atop the West.

Gasol, playing for the first time since spraining his left ankle March 14 and admittedly not fully healed, played nearly 32 minutes - far more than expected. He added six rebounds and seven assists.

``It's a little sore, let's see how it feels tomorrow morning,'' Gasol said. ``But I'm excited. I'm happy I was able to go out there and really contribute. I feel satisfied, really happy to be out there. We got a nice win.''

In other NBA games, it was: Atlanta 127, Toronto 120, OT; Boston 92, Indiana 77; Cleveland 118, Charlotte 114; New Orleans 106, Miami 77; Memphis 130, New York 114; and Utah 117, Minnesota 100.

In Seattle, Brand scored 19 points in his first game this season, leading the Clippers past the SuperSonics 102-84. Only eight months ago, he had surgery to repair an injured left Achilles' tendon.

``To be able to go out there and compete and help us get a win ... that was great,'' Brand said.

His stat line looked like so many others Brand has posted over the past few years - 7-for-15 shooting, five rebounds, three assists, one block, and most importantly, 13 points in the fourth quarter.

The crowd in Washington was roused by Arenas' surprising return, that unfolded as if it was a Hollywood production. He kept himself under wraps all day, missing the shootaround, the pregame warmup and even the national anthem. Then Arenas waited until the 5:30 mark of the first quarter to emerge from the locker room in his customary No. 0 jersey.

He entered the game 9 seconds later and scored his last two points on free throws with 15 seconds left to give the Wizards a one-point lead. But Milwaukee wouldn't stick to the story, and Ramon Sessions hit a 19-foot jumper at the buzzer to give the Bucks a 110-109 victory.

``The script was planned out the right way,'' Wizards guard Roger Mason said. ``He hit the two free throws at the end of the game, and I kind of thought that was the end. A great story line: 'Arenas back.' But Sessions hit a crazy shot at the end.''

To make matters worse, Washington lost Antawn Jamison (shoulder) and DeShawn Stevenson (ankle) to injuries.

To make matters worse, Washington lost Antawn Jamison (shoulder) and DeShawn Stevenson (ankle) to injuries.

At Boston, Kevin Garnett had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Celtics tied the NBA record for the best single-season turnaround.

With the league's best record at 60-15, the Celtics have 36 more wins than last season when they finished 24-58, the NBA's second-worst mark. The only other team to improve by that much was the San Antonio Spurs in 1996-97, Tim Duncan's first season.

With the league's best record at 60-15, the Celtics have 36 more wins than last season when they finished 24-58, the NBA's second-worst mark. The only other team to improve by that much was the San Antonio Spurs in 1996-97, Tim Duncan's first season.

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