DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki got back in the playoff race with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, starting a pivotal game against Golden State after missing the previous four with a high left ankle sprain.

Nowitzki, who sprained his ankle and his knee 10 days earlier, moved gingerly when he took shots during warmups just before the game. There were chants of "Dirk! Dirk! Dirk!" just before pregame introductions, then a deafening roar when he was the last starter introduced.

After losing to San Antonio in the game when Nowitzki got hurt, the Mavericks went 2-2 without him.

Dallas went into Wednesday night's game in seventh place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Denver and a game ahead of Golden State, but increased its lead with a 111-86 victory. Nowitzki finished with 14 points in 22 minutes.

ARENAS MAKES SURPRISE RETURN : Gilbert Arenas made a surprise return to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, playing his first game since knee surgery in November.

Showing his flair for the dramatic, Arenas waited until the 5:30 mark of the first quarter of the Wizards' game against the Milwaukee Bucks to emerge from the locker room wearing his No. 0 jersey.

He entered the game 9 seconds later to a large ovation and scored on a reverse layup with 4:49 left in the first, his first points since Nov. 16 against Minnesota. He made his first four shots before missing a fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving him 10 points in the quarter.

At halftime, Arenas was the Wizards' leading scorer. He had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting despite playing only 8 minutes.

KNICKS' PRESIDENT WILL WAIT ON THOMAS DECISION: Donnie Walsh is in. Now he needs a little time before deciding if Isiah Thomas is out.

Walsh was hired Wednesday as the New York Knicks' president of basketball operations, taking one of Thomas' jobs. Sometime soon, he will decide if Thomas keeps the other one as coach.

That won't happen yet, though. Thomas is in Memphis, where the Knicks continued a five-game road trip Wednesday night, and Walsh won't determine the coach's future until they have met in person.

"I need to sit down with Isiah and have a meaningful basketball conversation," Walsh said.

BRAND MAKES SEASON DEBUT: Elton Brand is back, just it time to potentially make life tough for some Western Conference teams fighting for playoff position.

The Los Angeles Clippers' star made his season debut on Wednesday night against the lowly Seattle SuperSonics. Brand had missed the entire season while recovering from a surgically repaired left Achilles' tendon.

GASOL RETURNS TO LAKERS' STARTING LINEUP: Pau Gasol returned to the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup Wednesday night despite still being slowed by a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss nine games.

Gasol was injured in the first quarter of a 108-98 loss to New Orleans on March 14. The Lakers were 5-4 in his absence after going 15-4 in his first 19 games after Los Angeles acquired him from Memphis.

"It's going to be sore, there's going to be pain," the 7-foot center said before the Lakers met the Portland Trail Blazers. "I just have to deal with it and get over it."