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Thursday, May 29
Updated: May 30, 1:07 AM ET
Nowitzki out, but Bradley returns in Game 6

Associated Press

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki's sprained left knee was still too unstable for him to return in the Dallas Mavericks' 90-78 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Thursday night.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki could only cheer his team on after missing Game 6 with a knee injury.

While the 7-foot All-Star remained in street clothes, the drama was heightened as he didn't get to the court until just before tipoff.

There was one surprise return for Dallas: 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley suited up for the first time since Game 3.

"I thought he was out for the playoffs,'' Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. "He's responding (to treatment) and could probably play in a pinch. It's good to have another big guy on the bench who can play a few minutes.''

Nowitzki sprained a ligament in his left knee late in Game 3. He hoped to play each of the last two games, but after both benchings said Nelson made the right call in not letting him even try.

Dallas lost Game 4, then overcame a 19-point deficit to win Game 5 and avoid elimination. The San Antonio Spurs led the series 3-2.

Nowitzki took some shots Wednesday. On Thursday, he got some treatment and took more jumpers a few hours before tipoff. The shootaround was closed to the media and Nelson had the blinds in his office closed, preventing views of the practice court.

"I really like an injured player to at least do some scrimmaging, some 3-on-3, some contact, because they really don't know until they do that. And they should have some rest time after that to see what happens before they play,'' Nelson said.

While these circumstances might prompt Nelson to loosen his rules, he maintains that if he uses Nowitzki it would be for more than a cameo appearance. Nowitzki is averaging 42.5 minutes this postseason, with team-highs of 25.3 points and 11.5 rebounds.

Nelson insisted he wouldn't have Nowitzki make a dramatic entrance -- no walking down the tunnel in uniform mid-game to fire up the crowd and his teammates, a la Willis Reed for the New York Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals.

"When things like that are orchestrated, they don't work,'' Nelson said. "I think the Willis Reed thing has already been done. It was done the right way, it wasn't set up. Willis thought he could help the team, came out and wanted to play. I think it's a little different in this situation. I don't think he should do that unless he can play and play some minutes.''

The Mavericks played so well the first 30 minutes of Game 4 without Nowitzki and then pulled off the comeback in Game 5 without him, there's even been speculation that he could break up their rhythm if he's at less than full strength.

Nelson said that's ridiculous.

"Everybody would be very happy if Dirk could play,'' Nelson said. "We would find a way to make good music.''



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