Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions

A week back or so, we brought you a few Christmas wishes from the Mavs. So how about those New Year’s resolutions? I need to work out more, but don’t most of us? Here’s what a few guys had to say today:

Avery Johnson: “We just want to come out and play hard and fight, and just be mentally and physically tough, and forget about the past and at the same time there’s some lessons we can learn from the past that we don’t want to duplicate.”

Jerry Stackhouse: “I want to try to be a better dad and husband.”
“And try to cut down on the technicals.”

Dirk Nowitzki: “Just more of the same. We’ve got all of the pieces we need. We just need to be a little tougher.”

Uncommon link: Nowitzki and Jackson

Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t need to be reminded of the defensive job Stephen Jackson and the rest of the Golden State Warriors did against him in the playoffs.

Nowitzki is well aware of Jackson’s impact.

“He’s great,” Nowitzki said of the 6-foot-8 swingman who guarded him throughout the first-round playoff series.

“I think they started the season 0-6 or 0-7 and he comes back, he’s like the glue to their team. He’s good defensively, he spreads the floor for them and he does a lot of little things for them. He’s found a perfect fit there for him in Golden State.”

Golden State did start the season 0-6, mostly because Jackson was serving a league-mandated suspension. His return sparked a resurgence, helping the Warriors win 18 of 25 heading into a New Year’s Eve date at Houston.

Golden State visits American Airlines Center on Wednesday, as the Mavericks get back to work following a three-day layoff. Dallas (20-11) practiced the first two days – “Two of the better practices that we’ve had in a long time,” coach Avery Johnson said Monday – before having New Year’s Day off.

Read the rest of Uncommon link: Nowitzki and Jackson at mavs.com.

Nellie: Same song, different verse

The storyline may seem tired to some, but it inevitably comes up whenever the Mavs face one of their old compatriots. First it was Steve Nash and then Michael Finley. Now, of course, it’s Don Nelson, who brings his Warriors to town Wednesday.

“You saw the same thing with Steve and Mike now in San Antonio,” Dirk Nowitzki said today. “After a while you just get over it. The first couple matchups are always weird and different to see your friends and people you worked with in another uniform, but after a while it gets older and you understand this league is a business too.

“Things change and people change, and you just have to go through it. It’s always good to see Nellie. I owe him a lot, obviously. I had a great time while he was here, but now he’s on a different team and we’re trying to win the game.”

Avery Johnson compared facing Nellie to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“It’s some of the same feelings,” Johnson said. “I was Nellie’s assistant head coach here. He gave me an awful lot of string and room to grow. We spent a lot of time talking a lot about the game behind the scenes. He’s coached me twice. It’s some of the same feelings. He’s been awfully good to a lot of coaches and I’m one of them.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Finding the right mix from downtown

Too much of anything usually isn’t a good thing. While that may serve as a valuable holiday reminder, the purposes of this discussion revolve around life outside the arc.

The 3-point shot has long been a favorite weapon for the Mavericks. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have been among the league’s best shooters from that distance. Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse have the green light from downtown. Eddie Jones, in his first season in Dallas, has made more than 1,500 3-pointers in his career.

But letting them fly without regard is akin to drinking a gallon of eggnog at one sitting. It’s typically not pretty.

“There’s a fine line,” coach Avery Johnson said Sunday afternoon after practice. “Even with our good 3-point shooters, I want them to first think about getting to the basket. My whole thing is and our whole system is how do we get points in the paint? Especially being a team that’s not a big-time post-up team, we have to get points at the basket with penetration.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Early to rise: Mavs clip Hawks

Waking up wasn’t an issue Saturday morning. Seizing the day and the game, the Mavericks shot down Atlanta 97-84 before a matinee crowd of 20,338 at American Airlines Center.

For a team ailing in several areas, the Mavs (20-11) helped themselves to brunch that Avery Johnson had to love. His team shot it, rebounded it, scored inside and defended.

“That team reminded me of a team that I coached here before,” Johnson said.

Erick Dampier set the tone with a two-handed dunk to open the game. Devin Harris followed with a driving layup, another sign that the Mavs were serious about getting to the basket.

The jumper was falling, too. Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki connected on consecutive 3-pointers on the next two possessions. The game was barely two minutes old and Dallas was up 12-0. The rout was on.

“I liked the focus early in the game,” Johnson said. “Our defense was really good early on. Sometimes it’s hard for me to give out compliments about our defense.”

Notables from 97-84 win vs. Hawks

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Dallas opened on a 12-0 run over the first 2:17 of the game. The game was never tied. Atlanta got to within 6 points (76-82) with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.

QUICK HITS
• With 22 points, Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks in scoring for the 6th consecutive game.
• Erick Dampier was disqualified from the game after committing his 6th foul with 1:40 left, but not before earning his 1st double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Mavs improved to 52-9 all-time when Dampier scores 10+ points.
• Atlanta’s Acie Law, a Dallas native, scored a season-high 12 points (4-11 FGs, 4-5 FTs). (Previous high was 11 points, done twice)
• The Mavericks held Atlanta’s Joe Johnson to 17 points (6-18 FGs, 1-5 3FGs, 4-5 FTs) in today’s game. Into the game, he averaged 22.3 points per game.
• Hawks head coach Mike Woodson was hit with his 1st technical foul of the season (at the 7:17 mark of the 3rd quarter).
• Over the last 3 games, the Mavericks are shooting a combined 75.9% (66-87 FTs) from the free throw line.
• After going just 28.3% (13-46 3FGs) from beyond the arc over the last 2 games, Dallas hit 53.8% of its attempts today (7-13 3FGs). The Mavs were a perfect 5-5 3FG in the 1st quarter.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,338 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 251 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 289 games including the postseason. Dallas currently owns the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Johnson: “Aggression is always rewarded”

The Mavs haven’t fared too well in noon starts the last few years. But as Jerry Stackhouse pointed out, most of those games have been on the East Coast.

“Noon there is 11 for us,” he cracked in the locker room. “Noon is noon here.”

We’ll see if that one hour makes a difference today against Atlanta, which is looking for a season sweep. The streaking Hawks run out an impressive group of athletes led by Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Josh Smith.

“It’s an athletic team we’re playing so it’s important for us to maintain that energy,” Stackhouse continued. “But more than energy, the word for us is ‘aggressive.’”

Avery Johnson repeated as much during his pregame media session and it was also the theme of yesterday’s spirited film session. Whether it’s on the offensive or defensive end, Johnson wanted to stress one thing.

“Aggression is always rewarded,” Johnson said. “The teams that are aggressive, that foul hard, drive hard, rebound hard, play hard, teams that complain the least, to me, historically, I think they get rewarded.”

National anthem: Rockin’ with Roli

Those at American Airlines Center today are in store for a national anthem delivered Jimi Hendrix style by Dirk Nowitzki’s brother-in-law. Roli Mayer, married to Dirk’s sister Silke, is trotting out a borrowed guitar for his biggest gig to date.

Unless you’re Keith Richards – and Roli has done his share of Rolling Stones covers – it’s not often that you get to strut your stuff before 20,000. Roli is in town with many of Dirk’s relatives celebrating the holidays.

I listened to Roli warm up this morning and it should be a rockin’ good show. Dirk normally fidgets during the Star Spangled Banner. I’ve got a feeling he’ll be paying closer attention to this one, while trying to hide a smirk.

“Don’t remind me,” Dirk quipped minutes before the opening tip.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Notebook: Shooters keep shooting

Shooters shoot the ball. When they don’t make shots, what can shooters do?

“They keep shooting,” Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said Friday after practice. “They spend a little bit more time just trying to simplify things. They try to get to a spot or two and say, ‘Hey, just let me make it from this spot.’

“But more than that, they talk to their teammates about setting better picks to bring them up a little more. They just try to work themselves out of it. But a shooter never goes to sleep thinking he can’t shoot.”

Sleep probably hasn’t been easy for come by for Jason Terry the last couple of nights. The Jet nearly went seven scoreless quarters before finally getting a shot to fall late in the third quarter of Thursday’s 88-81 home loss to Cleveland.

Terry’s struggles during the two-game losing streak – 3 of 22 (13.7 percent) from the floor – mirror an overall issue going into Saturday’s noon start against Atlanta at American Airlines Center. The Mavs (19-11) can’t buy a basket right now, shooting just 39.3 percent in the back-to-back setbacks to Utah and Cleveland.

Read the rest of this note, a couple more and get a glimpse of the Hawks (tomorrow’s foe) in today’s notebook at mavs.com.

Notables from 88-81 loss to Cleveland

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Dallas trailed 72-73 with 8:44 to go in regulation. Cleveland then ended the game on a 15-8 run through the end of the 4th quarter.

QUICK HITS
• Dirk Nowitzki finished with a season-high 20 rebounds (season-highs 16 DR, 4 OR). Tonight’s was his 6th game with 20+ rebounds. His last 20-rebounds game was vs. LAL on 4/3/03 when he came down with 22 boards. (Previous season-highs were 14 rebounds @ HOU on 11/21, 12 DR 2 times, 3 OR vs. PHO on 12/19)
• Nowitzki also had 19 points in the game for his team-leading 8th double-double.
• Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas recorded his 15th double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
• The Mavericks fell to 0-4 when failing to shoot at least 40% from the field. Dallas shot just 36.5% FG (27-64 FGs). They also fell to 4-1 when holding an opponent below 40% shooting. Cleveland shot 36.4% FG (32-88 FGs).
• Over the last 2 games (0-2), the Mavs are producing just 85.5 points per game. They are allowing 93.5 points in that span.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,462 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 250 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 288 games including the postseason. Dallas currently owns the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mavs can't find the range in Cavs loss

Much has been made of the improvement of the last three weeks and rightfully so. The Mavericks appeared to turn a corner from an uneven 20-game start with a consistent stretch of basketball since the first week of December.

Other than the last two nights.

Cleveland put the finishing touches on a back-to-back nightmare by handling Dallas 88-81 Thursday night at American Airlines Center. The Mavs (19-11) had a five-game winning streak snapped the previous night at Utah.

“All hell hadn’t broken loose because we lost two games in a row and we hadn’t played our best,” coach Avery Johnson cautioned.

But the two losses were particularly alarming considering how the Mavs lost. Cleveland’s domination inside eclipsed what the Jazz did. The Cavaliers enjoyed a 42-20 points-in-the-paint advantage less than 24 hours after Utah held a 16-point edge in the same category.

“That’s not our game and something that we’re consistently addressing,” said Johnson, who picked up a technical 22 seconds into the game.

Gana working to stay positive

Gana Diop hasn’t played much lately. In fact, he’s failed to break 10 minutes in the last four games. Sure, he’s frustrated, but he’s continuing to work and trying not to get too down.

“I’ve been through a lot worse in Cleveland,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready and be a pro about it. You can’t worry about what the coach is trying to do. This is a great team. You can’t beat this.”

Diop admits that at night it does get to him. He started the first 14 games of the season and averaged 7.6 rebounds through November. Instead of sulk, he’s decided to work harder. Beginning at Utah last night, Diop has done extra work – cardio and drills with strength coach Robert Hackett – before the game.

“Anybody who didn’t play, it would be upsetting,” Diop said. “I can’t control that. That’s up to coach. I just have to keep working.”

LeBron: Passing since birth

As a former point guard, Avery Johnson can appreciate a good passer. LeBron James rates far above “good” in Johnson’s book.

“He’s a fantastic passer,” Johnson said. “He’s one of the best passers in the league. His court vision, to have it at this age, he’s head and shoulders above a lot of players the way he can pass the ball.

“That’s really a lost art in our game these days, just being able to make good quality on-time, on-target passes. That’s what I see in his game.”

I asked Johnson if that kind of passing ability can be taught or is it instinctual (Side note: A fellow media member chided me after about using “instinctual.” “Try spell checking it,” he quipped. Well, it got through.)

Anyway, Johnson said that court vision/improved passing can be taught, but different players pick it up at different rates. Dirk Nowitzki is a good example of one working on his passing skills. Johnson also pointed out that LeBron has grown up recognizing the value of sharing the ball.

“He’s been double-teamed probably since he was a baby, right?” Johnson said, drawing laughs from the media. “And then there’ve been other players that couldn’t shoot that tried to make it as a passer, if you know what I mean.”

Yes, we know. You did pretty good for yourself, Coach.

Eddie keeps his spot, George next option

Avery Johnson has no plans to replace Eddie Jones in the starting lineup with Devean George or anyone else … for now. Jones started last night’s loss in Utah, but played only four minutes, while George had his best game of the season with 13 points in 24 minutes off the bench.

“I’m pretty consistent with what I’ve been saying,” Johnson said during his pregame media session. “Right now I just want to give Eddie a look and see how it works. He hasn’t been in there for too long. He didn’t play too much last night, so hopefully he’ll have a lot of energy tonight. We want George to continue what he’s been doing.”

Johnson did admit that if he made a change that George “would be my next option.” George was effective in the starting lineup last season before getting injured.

Jones, George and Co. won’t have it easy tonight with Cleveland in town. The Mavs did limit LeBron James to 10 points in the 92-74 victory to open the season. Jones and Trenton Hassell chased James around most of that night.

“They tried to make it as difficult as they could,” Johnson said. “He missed some open shots. More than anything, we were trying to attack on the offensive end which got him in some foul trouble, which helped us.”

Dirk slips to third in All-Star voting

Tim Duncan’s move from center back to forward on the All-Star ballot has dropped Dirk Nowitzki to third among forwards in the Western Conference. Nowitzki is only about 35,000 votes behind Duncan, who trails leader Carmelo Anthony.


Here’s the complete look at the current results at nba.com. There’s still plenty of time to vote for Dirk and the rest of the Mavs (Josh, Jet, Stack and Damp) on the ballot. For those of you interested in cool stuff, you can win daily prizes, including autographed jerseys, basketballs and tickets, by punching the ballot at mavs.com. You can vote every day through Jan. 20.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Utah snaps five-game streak by going inside

SALT LAKE CITY – Layups on one end, jumpers at the other. That’s the easy explanation for the Mavericks’ 99-90 loss at Utah and it isn’t that far off.

“You can definitely say that,” Devin Harris said. “The first quarter they were getting layups and dunks, and we didn’t score until the 6-minute mark taking jump shots. It took us too long to figure that out.”

The Jazz ran Jerry Sloan’s time-tested system for easy baskets time and time again Wednesday night inside EnergySolutions Arena, snapping the five-game winning streak of the jumper-happy Mavs.

Dallas (19-10) stayed within striking distance because of the outside shot, namely the 3-pointer. Dirk Nowitzki hoisted a season-high 10 from beyond the arc (made three) and the Mavs would make nine in all.

But the Jazz, losers earlier this month at Dallas, pounded their way to 44 points in the paint. Whether it was Carlos Boozer (21 points and nine rebounds) dunking or Deron Williams (17 points and 12 assists) flying through the lane, Utah made its living in close proximity to the rim.

“Too many,” Mavs coach Avery Johnson said Utah’s layups. “That’s been an area of concern.”

Mavs-Jazz notes: Bigs and smalls

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s not difficult to figure out what happens when the point guards and centers bring it in the same game.

“We have a stat around here, when both of those plays well, we’re undefeated,” Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. “When one or the other plays well, we’re still capable of winning games.”

If it seems like an obvious observation, it is.

“That would be the case with any team,” point guard Devin Harris said. “If we knew why we don’t [always play well], we probably wouldn’t have lost a game yet.”

Johnson’s formula for “playing well” isn’t strictly based on numbers. He called it a combination of factors taking into account offensive and defensive play. A couple categories for Harris include scoring and breaking the defense down. Erick Dampier is partly graded on rebounding, blocking shots and being a threat inside.

No telling how back the undefeated stretch goes, but Harris and Dampier are both playing well lately. Harris went into Wednesday against Utah averaging 19 points in previous three games. Dampier pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked 4.0 shots in the previous two.

Read the rest of this note and more at mavs.com.

Making the climb

Dirk Nowitzki summed up the team’s slow start and recent improvement.

“The month of November was not ideal for us,” he said. “We lost a lot of games we feel we should have won. We even lost some games at home to Eastern Conference teams that we usually win, so I think that month of November left a lot of room for improvement.

“The month of December is a lot better so far. We’re a little sharper defensively, we’re moving the ball pretty good offensively and making shot. I think we’re slowly getting there where we want to be.”

The Mavs are 19-9 after winning seven of their last eight. Dallas will have its longest winning streak of the season (six) if it beats Utah tonight. Avery Johnson called the upswing part of the continual building process. Sort of like climbing that ladder or mountain.

“We’re right where I envisioned,” said the coach/prophet. “We actually got off to a little bit better start early in the season than what I anticipated. We’re right where we need to be and we still have some big areas of concern, some minor areas of concern and things we have to address on a daily basis. And we hope that day-by-day, month-by-month, week-by-week we can knock off an area and improve, and be playing our best ball at the right time.”

Dirk beating the double team

Dirk Nowitzki has run off three straight 30-point games going into tonight against Utah. The MVP is going to get double-teamed by the Jazz. Avery Johnson knows it. Nowitzki knows it. All those who brave the snow to pack the Tox Box (EnergySolutions Arena) know it, too.

Double teams aren’t necessarily passing situations for Nowitzki. As we’ve seen the last three games, Nowitzki can still make things happen when teams can send multiple defenders his way.

“Sometimes I’ve still got to find a way to get my shots off,” he said today after shootaround. “Usually by just waiting once I catch the ball and let the other team double-team me, sometimes I’ve got to quick shoot it, quick drive it and make something happen.”

Johnson said it’s a matter of being more aggressive. Split the double team, if possible. If he has to pass the ball out, call for it back.

“He’s not as easily double-teamed as he was earlier in the season,” Johnson said. “He trusts his teammates, but there are times we want him to go and make plays if there is a weak double team.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wishes

Just a sampling of the Holiday sentiments from the Mavs to their fans:

Avery Johnson
“I just wish everyone in the family life can experience a lot of joy.”
“When you talk about celebrating the birth of Christ, for our family this is it.”
“Give more than you receive.”

Dirk Nowitzki
“Just stay positive with us. I hope we’ll get it done this year.”

Jerry Stackhouse
“My Christmas wish for Mavs fans is just to get to games a little earlier and get a little loud. I know we had a good run last year, but don’t get too spoiled.”

Stack sure isn’t. All he wants, and it doesn’t change from year to year, is socks and underwear. He also bought his mom a new washer and dryer. The simple things in life make a difference.

From everyone at Mavs Courtside View (me) and the Mavs family, have the happiest of Holidays.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reading the practice situation

Avery Johnson made an admission that one might not expect, but it isn’t too surprising. Now in his third full season as Mavericks coach, Johnson has learned that each team has its own personality.

Take the approach to practice for this particular version.

“We tried practicing this team a lot and they don’t respond well,” said Johnson, who had his jersey retired Saturday night in San Antontio. “When we first took over, that particular team, you could practice them morning, noon and night, and they would respond.

“This team is a little bit different. We’ve had to balance, maybe watch a little more film, maybe a little less practice, lift some weights, keep some guys fresh. That’s what managing is all about. I don’t even know if we are coaches. We’re managers.”

Read the rest of this story at mavs.com.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What the Mavs had to say...

Mavs guard Jerry Stackhouse
“We really tried to create our energy, our own enthusiasm and for the most part we did. We were pretty solid all the way around except we allowed some offensive rebounds and some were lucky bounces for them, but for the most part I thought we did some good things tonight.”

Talk about Devin Harris play at the point tonight?
“We just want Devin to be aggressive. Whenever he’s aggressive and getting into the lane it creates so much havoc for the defense and it creates opportunities for everybody. He sometimes gets in the mode in the NBA point guard and just gets assists and all that stuff. We like our chances when he gets to the basket and he gets 15 plus points and from that threat if he’s able to get some assists then great, but we don’t want him to be the prototypical point guard.”

Mavs guard Jason Terry
You really got it going scoring wise in the 4th?

“We just felt like we needed to try to put this team away. They had closed the margin somewhat, they got it down to five but we made some big shots. I knocked down a couple and Dirk hit a big three down the stretch. I thought for the most part we made good decisions and did a great job on the offensive end. Defensively we still had an area of concern and that was on the defensive boards, but we’re still a work in progress. We like where we’re at right now at this point.”

Talk about the adjustment for you coming off the bench?
“I been in the league now nine years and it’s just a matter of going out with the mind set of being aggressive when I’m out there. I just need to continue to do the things my teammates need me to do when I’m out there.”

Mavs Head Coach Avery Johnson
“I thought overall our energy and our competitive spirit was good. We had a few breakdowns that we need to take a look at, but again the men our wide eyed, really in tune to what we are doing and they are making a concerted effort to defend better and get back on defense. We got better except for a few funny bounces on some offensive rebounds and some other they beat us on. Again we’re not flying high and mighty right now, we know we still have our game to work on and that keeps us on our toes.”

Do you like the overall defense right now?
“Some parts of it yes, some parts of it are pretty good. We didn’t give up many points in transition which was good. We were really getting after it out there trying to extend there offense a little bit and we’re fighting, playing hard and having fun.”

What the Clippers had to say...

Head Coach Mike Dunleavy
“I thought we went through stretches where we just didn’t shoot the ball well, again. We made some good runs back but we could never get a crack. We were missing lay ups and free throws, things that could’ve given us a little more momentum. They [Dallas] hit a stretch there in the second half where Dirk [Nowitzki] made some tough and then he also created some buckets for Terry and they made big shots.”

Talk about your team’s hustle...
“Well, we played hard. I was pleased with the way we played. We got some guys into the mix who got some playing time – like Al [Thornton] and some of our younger guys got some playing time that we can keep building from. But in that fourth quarter we had a couple good three pointers that went in and out on us that were wide open looks and if we’d knocked them down all of a sudden we’re talking six or seven point game. It’s a lot different shooting the ball from the outside, free-stroking, when you’re up 14 versus six or seven.”

Center Chris Kaman
Talk about tonight’s game – the game you had in particular…
“It’s frustrating. A lot of things went on, people have good games but that doesn’t mean anything really if you can’t get the win. I thought on defense we did a pretty decent job, but the offense has been a problem for us this year. Some people are just flat – we don’t move well, we don’t execute well, something is wrong and we’ve got to figure it out on our own. It’s going to take every one of us in this room to figure it out. Now we’re shorthanded, again, and keep having all these injuries. It’s been a long season already with all these injuries, but what can you do? You can’t give up, you’ve got to keep playing, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Guard Brevin Knight
“They’re an explosive team, but I think we kept them in striking range the entire night. Made a couple runs, and against a team like this when you make a run that’s when you’ve really got to hunker down and get a little bit tougher. We got it to within three there in the third quarter and then we let them get three buckets in succession and you can’t do that against good teams. We didn’t put enough pressure on them to get [them] a little bit nervous. They stayed comfortable. So their jump shots stayed comfortable. With this team you’ve got to make them pressured a little bit.”

Friday, December 21, 2007

Notables from 102-89 win vs. Clippers

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Dallas trailed 23-24 with 11:18 to go in the 2nd quarter. The Mavs then went on 14-2 run (ending with 7:04 remaining) to go up 37-26.

QUICK HITS
• The Mavericks have now won 5 consecutive games (dating to 12/14 vs. NO), matching their longest win streak of the season (between 11/13 vs. PHI and 11/21 @ HOU).
• Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high 30 points (11-17 FGs, 1-3 3FGs, 7-7 FTs). Tonight’s was his 3rd straight game to score 30+ points. The last time he had 3 consecutive games of 30 points was between 1/12-1/16/06. He scored 43 @ IND (1/12), 38 @ TOR (1/14) and 30 vs. HOU (1/16).
• Devin Harris is averaging 19.0 points over the last 3 games. Tonight, he scored 21 points (8-13 FGs, 2-3 3FGs, 3-4 FTs) and the Mavs improved to 5-1 when he contributes 20 points or more.
• Clippers’ center Chris Kaman finished the 1st half with 16 points and 9 rebounds. His full game averages are 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds.
• Clippers’ center Paul Davis suffered a sprained right knee with 8:53 to go in the 2nd quarter. He did not return.
• The Mavericks are now 9-0 when shooting 50% or better from the field. Dallas went 55.1% tonight (38-69 FGs).
• The Mavs improved to 17-1 when they lead by at least 10 points in the game. Dallas led by as many as 16.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,246 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 249 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 287 games including the postseason. Dallas currently owns the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Mavs streak to fifth straight win

It’s time to take a little holiday break.

Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris combined for 51 points, leading the Mavericks past the Los Angeles Clippers 102-89 Friday night before a sellout crowd of 20,246 at American Airlines Center. Dallas has beaten the Clippers in eight of the last 11 meetings.

The Mavs (19-9) enters their four-day break 10 games above .500 for the first time this season and with a five-game winning streak that is tied for their longest this season. Avery Johnson’s crew doesn’t resume action until Dec. 26 at Utah.

Coming off consecutive 30-point outings, Nowitzki picked right back up. He scored 14 in the first quarter on 4-of-6 shooting and a 6-for-6 effort at the line. The Clippers hung close behind 12 points from center Chris Kaman.

The Mavs began to get separation in the second quarter behind Harris, who scored 10 in the period. The lead grew as big as 13 before Dallas settled into halftime with a 54-42 edge.

The cloud is starting to lift

Avery Johnson pulled the team together after the 20-game mark for a “talk.” The pow-wow was meant to take some pressure off and refocus on the immediate future.

“I told them, let me worry about all the long-term stuff,” Johnson said Friday night. “This is a great time for our young men. They’re all young men, right? This is a great time in their lives.

“Have some fun, play some basketball and be competitive and play with a lot of energy and stay in the short term for right now. And we tried to give them some short-term goals and I think they responded to our little talk.”

Did he want to emphasize anything in particular?

“Let’s compete,” Johnson said. “Let’s have some energy and pick our heads up. I think they were tricked into thinking that last season was a disgrace. So I had to kind of lay out what other teams have done and lay out where this organization was 10 years ago and where we are now. So we had to lay out a few things and I think they got the message.”

Read the rest of this note in the Mavs-Clippers notebook at mavs.com.

Retired jerseys for Josh and Devin

Avery Johnson gets his NBA jersey retired tomorrow night (see below). Two guys in the locker room – Josh Howard (Wake Forest) and Devin Harris (Wisconsin) – had theirs retired in college.

Howard had this to say: “It’s something. Not too many people get that done. Getting your number up in the rafters lets you know you got some work done.”

Very true. As for Harris, “I forgot all about it.”

Busy stretch ends tonight

The stretch of 19 games in 32 days thankfully ends tonight. (Hey, I have to work these games, too.) There have been a few rough spots along the way, but the Mavs have won four straight going into the Clippers game.

Another win means a 12-7 record for the breakneck stretch. The team will have four days off before facing Utah the day after Christmas.

“It is something to look forward to if you take advantage of it,” Avery Johnson said. “Mix in a little practice, some weights and some games. This is the first time in a long time we’ve had a chance to look at our team.”

Johnson has a schedule in place for the break. It’ll encompass practice, rest, turkey and macaroni-and-cheese. Yes, that’s what he said.

D-League guys

Jose Barea, in his second year, is eligible for the D-League, but he’s remained with the big club. Avery Johnson doesn’t have any immediate plans to send Barea down even though he’s been on the inactive roster lately.

“Right now keep practicing with the team because he’s our third point guard and there are times in practice when we need him here, especially with us having two guys in the developmental league,” Johnson said. “It’s been more beneficial for him to be here now. That can change down the road.”

Nick Fazekas and Moe Ager are both with the Tulsa 66ers.

“[Fazekas] and Ager are down there together now,” Johnson said. “They’re working hard and it’s one game at a time, one practice at a time. We hope that this experience can help them get better when they come back to us.”

Both aren’t expected up anytime soon.

“Both of those guys need to play and once they get a chance to play, we can get them on film and have an evaluation on what they need to continue to work on,” Johnson added.

Gearing up for the Clippers

Is it tough to get up for the 9-15 Clippers two nights after getting the best of Phoenix? What do you think Avery Johnson is going to say?

“We’ve been down enough this year and we haven’t played to our full capacity yet, so we don’t really have time to overlook anybody,” he said. “We’re just not that good. We just need to come out and play our style of basketball. Obviously, with some of the defensive breakdowns that we had the last game, we addressed those again in shootaround today and we will continue. We’re not that good to overlook anybody.”

Avery Johnson: More than just one shot

The image linked to Avery Johnson probably won’t ever change. Knocking down a baseline jumper – he wasn’t supposed to have one – to close out the New York Knicks in Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals clinched San Antonio’s first championship.

I witnessed that shot in person at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1999. I remember thinking at the time how important that title was for David Robinson, who endured a decade of criticism for being soft. We learned later that Sean Elliott somehow made it through the playoffs with a failing kidney. He would later need a transplant.

Robinson and Elliott were the first of the 1990s Spurs to have their jerseys retired. They were NBA bluebloods. Both picked up Play of the Year awards in college and both were picked at the top of the NBA Draft. They were supposed to be pillars in building a champion.

Johnson wasn’t. His story of perseverance is well-chronicled. He was cut once on Christmas Eve. Once the same day he was at the Robinson’s wedding. If it wasn’t for a 10-day contract in Houston, who knows if he would have made it. He had already played for four other teams before earning a foothold with the Spurs. By 1999, the Little General had earned a special place in the heart of San Antonio, a town that prides itself as an underdog.

“That’s where I really made my mark,” Johnson said. “The other teams were just pit stops. Playing there [10] years it means a lot, especially with the way my career started off. Hopefully, it serves as an inspiration for those young people out there that really aren’t the high-flyers or the dunkers or the 3-point shooters or the ones that aren’t big in stature.

“Here’s a guy that wasn’t drafted that was in obscurity, didn’t really go to a big college that had a chance to join the big boys in the rafters that went to the big schools that were bigger in stature that scored a ton of points and that made All-Star teams and Top 50. There’s an opportunity for them also.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Couple more thoughts on Phoenix

The Mavs didn’t have a problem getting up and down the floor with Phoenix, even Though the Suns held a 43-20 edge in fastbreak points.

“We like to get out and run and push the ball,” Jerry Stackhouse said today. “That’s one of the strong suits of Devin.”

One could argue that the Mavs actually won the point guard matchup based on what’s expected out of Devin Harris and Steve Nash. Harris finished with 21 points, six assists, three steals and one turnover. Nash had 21 points, 18 assists, one steal and five turnovers.

Harris wasn’t about to fret over the 17-point lead that Phoenix whittled away. People tend to forget the merits of just getting a 17-point lead. Teams make runs in the NBA, especially the good teams.

“We’re just going to take it however we can get it,” Harris said of the team’s fourth straight win.

The Mavs can match the longest winning streak of the season Friday night against the Clippers at American Airlines Center.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mavs take first bout vs. Phoenix

A pair of Western Conference heavyweights slugged it out Wednesday night at American Airlines Center. The thing about this rivalry, heavyweights don’t punch this fast.

The Mavericks and Suns went back-and-forth more times than Rocky and Apollo. The flurries came from all angles and it took a full 15 rounds to decide it before 20,316 frenzied fans.

At the end of the Dallas’ 108-105 victory you could almost picture Dirk Nowitzki saying, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.” We know better.

The Mavs (18-9) moved within a game of San Antonio (18-7) atop the Southwest Division. Phoenix (18-8) still owns the second-best record in the West. Dallas is 2-1 this season against its two biggest rivals.

Notables from 108-105 win vs. Phoenix

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Dallas led 80-77 with 27.3 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter. The Mavs then went on a 16-5 run lasting until the 7:10 mark of the 4th quarter to go up 96-83.

QUICK HITS
• The Mavericks scored a season-high tying 37 1st quarter points while the Suns scored a season-low tying 20 1st quarter points.
• Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers with 31 points (10-20 FGs, 2-4 3FGs, 9-10 FTs). He is averaging 31.0 points over the last 2 games.
• The Mavs improved to 4-2 when Nowitzki contributes 30+.
• The Mavs improved to 3-2 when 3+ players score 20+ points.
Also scoring 20+ points were Josh Howard (23 points on 9-19 FGs, 1-1 3FGs, 4-5 FTs) and Devin Harris (21 on 8-16 FGs, 2-3 3FGs, 3-4 FTs).
• Phoenix’s Steve Nash finished the game with 21 points and 18 assists – 1 shy of his season high (19 @ WAS on 12/7).
• The Mavs came down with a season-high 19 offensive rebounds and outscored Phoenix 16-12 on the second chance. (Previous high was 16 OR vs. DEN on 12/6.)
• The Mavs improved to 16-1 when they lead by at least 10 points in the game. Dallas led by as many as 17.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,316 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 248 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 286 games including the postseason. Dallas currently owns the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Devin Harris is done with the mic

Devin Harris said before the game he was wearing the ESPN mic for the first half only. He held true to his word. Assistant trainer Dionne Calhoun just dropped off the device, which was strapped to his lower back, with director of basketball communications Sarah Melton here at press row.

Kristy hooks up Oak Ridge Boys

Coaches assistant Kristy Cotten lined up the Oak Ridge Boys to sing tonight’s national anthem. It seems a good friend of Kristy is a high-powered big wig in country music and the Boys are in town on tour. They also happen to be big NBA fans.

A call was made to Kristy. She talked to the right people and in exchange for tickets, the world-famous quartet serenaded us with a first-rate version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Pregame notes: Calling the shots

Not so long ago, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson took over many of the play-calling responsibilities. Devin Harris didn’t have a problem with it. He also doesn’t have a problem overruling Johnson when necessary.

Johnson mentioned two Harris audibles during Saturday’s win at Houston.

“I see things a little differently out there on the court than he does over there standing and pointing,” Harris said Wednesday before the Suns game. “Sometimes I have to remind him we scored on certain plays a couple times in a row.”

The point guard-coach relationship has grown to the point where even if Harris knows that Johnson may be upset with a certain call, he’ll call it anyway.

“I’ll just get yelled at after,” Harris said. “We really don’t have 24 seconds to argue about it.”

Harris added: “I wouldn’t have been able to do that last year.”

Read the rest of this note and plenty more in the Mavs-Suns notebook at mavs.com.

Ready for the fireworks

Mavericks-Suns is often referred to as the league’s most exciting rivalry. The reasons are well known – past playoff series, best friends turned MVPs and plenty of good ball.

“They’re doing more of the same that they’ve been doing over the years,” Dirk Nowitzki said of the Suns. “It’s going to be a fun game. It’s always a fun game playing them up and down. There are great competitors on their team, so it should be a fun game.”

Writer's cramp

Now please welcome guest blogger Paul Coro, my arch nemesis who covers the Suns for The Arizona Republic.

The aforementioned Suns-Mavs action was overshadowed by a beat writer smackdown that captured everyone’s attention on a neighboring basket. Garcia may know your Mavs, but he is the Minnesota Timberwolves of free throw shooting.

Despite the fact that I was wearing a dress shirt and tie, I took down Garcia with three wins, one loss (fluke) and a tie in five free-throw shooting contests. Now, he will go back to covering basketball rather than trying to shoot one.

Suns staffers get the best of the Mavs

For those of you who think Mavs-Suns tonight is the main event, you should have been at the AAC practice court this afternoon for the undercard. The Suns training/equipment staff took on a motley crew of Mavs staffers in the best-of-7 halfcourt 4-on-4 bonanza.

The Dallas boys were trainer Casey Smith, assistant trainer Dionne Calhoun, basketball communications stud Scott Tomlin and assistant video guy Mondrick James. Smith used to work in Phoenix, so the grudge match was personal.

I know I said it was a best-of-7, but these quickly aging has-beens and never-weres audibled to best-of-3 after the first game to 11 took more than 20 minutes. I’m sure their knees, ankles and lungs welcomed the change.

Phoenix dominated Game 1, 11-5. The Mavs stormed to take the second game 11-6. The Suns were down 6-0 in Game 3 before rallying for a series-clinched 11-8 win. I wish I had better stats, but I can only count so many missed shots and turnovers.

They did play a fourth game, but mavs.com didn’t recognize it for purposes of declaring a winner. Besides, I was too bored to watch anymore.

It's all about 'O'

The Suns lead the league in scoring (109.2 ppg) – big surprise there – so defense is the key tonight, right? To borrow a line from Lee Corso: Not so fast my friend.

“It’s more important for us to be good offensively ourselves,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “They’re a great team that can score the ball. There are going to be a lot more possessions than there are in an average game, so we’ve got to take advantage of those possessions. When teams want to play up-and-down like that, they’re not exerting a lot of emphasis on the defensive end, so we’ve got to take advantage of that.”

Avery Johnson agreed. The Mavs, by the way, are ninth in scoring at 101.8.

“We’re going to have to make sure we play solid offense first so we can have balance going back on defense,” he said.

Devin Harris steps up to the mic

The boys are being mic’ed up again tonight with ESPN in town. Head coaches Avery Johnson and Mike D’Antoni are required by the league to wear the sound-gathering devices in an effort to “enhance” the broadcast.

“We’re 0-for-1 with that doggone microphone,” Johnson quipped.

The players don’t have to wear it, but so far the Mavs have been good sports. Jerry Stackhouse wore a mic in the Denver loss earlier this month. ESPN asked Devin Harris yesterday and he agreed, so perhaps you’ll hear a little quarterbacking tonight.

J-Ho good to go

Josh Howard tweaked his left ankle stepping on Dirk Nowitzki’s foot Monday against Orlando. (For once, he landed on a teammate’s foot.) Howard took it easy at practice yesterday, but he won’t tonight with Phoenix in town.

“You know me,” he said. “It ain’t going to slow me down for this game tonight.”

He can’t afford to be a step slow with Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Grant Hill and the rest running the floor.

Dear Santa: I want a title -- Avery

What would Avery Johnson want for Christmas?

“I would love to have a championship.”

Johnson should know – he preaches it enough and I did remind him – that titles aren’t handed out in December.

“You can leave it in December and open it in June.”

Got me there.

“It’s like a suit,” he continued. “Some suits you buy, you don’t want to wear it right now. You may save it. They’re not in season yet.”

As an owner of one suit that comes out of the closet about once a year, I really can’t relate. Back to the immediate Santa wish list.

“If we can do a better job of guarding penetration, I’ll take that as a gift, and do a better job of rebounding,” Johnson said. “Really getting those dirty rebounds. That’s something that we’ve haven’t really talked a lot about. We need to get those dirty, physical rebounds. Those two things kind of stand out for me right now.”

Dirk & Devin Visit Scottish Rite Hospital

Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris were feeling the holiday spirit and wanted to spread the cheer and do something special for kids that unfortunately will be in the hospital over the holidays. So on Sunday, Dec. 16 Dirk and Devin made a surprise visit to some patients at Scottish Rite Hospital.

“It was great. Anytime you get a chance to see kids and families in a situation like that it makes you realize there are way more important things than basketball in life,” said Nowizki. “With the world we live in and all the hype and glamour, once in a while that’s good for us to see. It brings us back down to the real world and to real life. There are some tough things to see. The best thing for us is to bring a smile to these kids’ faces. We brought them some gifts and just visited for a while. It was definitely a good thing for all of us involved.”

The two purchased $10,000 worth of toys that they donated to the hospital.The guys made about 20 room visits where they handed out toys they purchased and visited with the kids and their families.

“It’s all about the kids. They have a great reputation of what they’re doing with kids and their therapy. Some of the ones that weren’t fortunate enough to go home for Christmas or may not receive Christmas presents, hopefully we can help them have a Merry Christmas,” said Harris. “We got to meet some cool kids. They were very cheerful and happy to meet us. We got to meet their parents. We got to talk to them a little bit and surprise them with a toy. It was fun and a good feeling.”

Looking like the old Grant Hill

Is Phoenix reclamation project Grant Hill all the way back after essentially seven wasted years in Orlando? It sure looks that way. The former (future?) All-Star is off to a promising start in the Valley of the Sun.

“Grant Hill is definitely a nice acquisition for them,” Avery Johnson said yesterday. “He can handle the ball and make plays off the dribble, and they’re still one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Especially any time a team shows up with Steve Nash and [Amaré] Stoudemire and [Shawn] Marion, and has a host of role players.”

To read more on Hill and his new team, check out my man Paul Coro’s ditty, Hill of an investment for Suns, in the Arizona Republic.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stackhouse finding his old groove

Jerry Stackhouse appears to be coming around about the same time as the Mavericks. Coincidence?

Perhaps. No one man makes a team, and everyone knows this team is built around an MVP. But there’s also no question that Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Co. could use Stackhouse by their side.

They know it. So does Stackhouse.

“When I’m playing aggressive,” he said, “we’re different.”

That aggression/swagger seems to be back. Stackhouse is averaging 18 points on 50-percent shooting (17-34) during the three-game winning streak. Dallas (17-9) aims for four in Wednesday night’s expected track meet with Phoenix (18-7) at American Airlines Center.

Stackhouse isn’t just settling for jumpers during his personal spurt. His 17 foul shots (made all 17) lead the team over those three games. Nowitzki racked up 16 free throws in 112 minutes, while Howard added another 15 in 114 minutes. Stackhouse did his damage in just 79 minutes.

Read more on Stackhouse and the rest of today’s notebook at mavs.com.

Dirk and Steve float the same boat

The Mavs and Suns may be at the top of the list of 29 teams chasing San Antonio. Best buds Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash may be at the top of the list of superstars chasing a title.

“We’re still trying to reach the same goals, I guess,” Nowitzki said today after practice. “We both won MVPs, but I think if we could trade the MVP trophy in for a championship, we would do it. That’s what this league is all about.

“I think we both have a couple good years left. We’ll see who reaches that goal, but we understand there are a lot of great players in this league that have never won a championship, so it might not happen for either one of us. But as long as we still can walk, we’re going to give it our best shot, play hard and see what the outcome is.”

Asked if the road to the Western Conference title still goes through San Antonio and Phoenix, Avery Johnson nixed the second part of the equation.

“San Antonio is the champion,” he said. “They are the champion. Everybody else, all of the other 29 teams, are chasing San Antonio and we’re all lumped together. I don’t necessarily think anybody is ahead of another team right now.

“We just have to come out and play this team [Phoenix], which is a difficult team to play, but we can be a difficult team to play, also, when we play Mavs basketball.”

Johnson and Harris get last laugh

Avery Johnson can spin a cliché as good as anyone. He also knows when to dish it straight. Last night he was asked if, as a player, he was aware of being called out by a fellow player.

“Oh, absolutely,” Johnson said. “I’m not even going to give you coaches’ talk and say no – circled, put an X, put a star by it, got extra sleep, shot at night.”

Those that know Johnson remember former Portland point guard Damon Stoudemire famously saying San Antonio will never win a title with Johnson running the show. You guys know how that ended up.

Back to the Mavs. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson recently said he’s better and more valuable to his team than Devin Harris. Harris, of course, outplayed Nelson in last night’s win at ACC. After the game, Nelson was ready to move on.

“There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “I hope he doesn’t take it as hard feelings. If I disrespected him, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean any harm. I had to compare myself to somebody.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dirk scores 31 as Mavs hold off Magic

Basketball isn’t often referred to as a game of inches. Monday night it was a game of toes, specifically those belonging to Magic guard Keith Bogans.

What at first appeared to be a game-tying 3-point in the closing seconds was not to be, and the Mavericks were able to hold on to a 111-108 victory before a sellout crowd of 20,114 at American Airlines Center.

“It was close,” Josh Howard said simply.

It was. And this was the kind of game the Mavericks were losing not so long ago, facing a potent Eastern Conference squad with a budding superstar/MVP candidate in Dwight Howard. This is also exactly the kind of game they won more often than not the last couple seasons.

It’s too soon to say whether if those Mavs are back, but Dallas (17-9) has won three straight and five of six, and 10 in a row against the Magic at home.

“Obviously, the month of November wasn’t really great,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Our big goal was to take it month-to-month. I think we’re taking steps in the right direction.”

Notables from 111-108 win vs. Orlando

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Leading 62-61 with 9:27 remaining in the 3rd quarter, DAL went on a 10-2 run (lasting until 6:29) to take a 72-63 lead.

QUICK HITS
• The Mavericks improved to 8-0 when shooting 50.0% from the field or better. Tonight, Dallas finished the game by going 52.5% FG (42-80 FGs).
• Dallas also improved to 3-4 when allowing their opponent to shoot better than 50.0%. Orlando finished the game shooting 52.4% from the field (44-84 FGs).
• Over the last 3 games, Jerry Stackhouse averages 18.0 points, including 21 points tonight (5-10 FGs, 1-5 3FGs, 10-10 FTs). Into tonight, he averaged 10.0 points per game. Stackhouse hit two free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining in regulation to push Dallas’ lead to 3 points entering Orlando’s final possession.
• Eddie Jones returned to the starting lineup tonight, replacing Jason Terry at the two-guard. Tonight’s starting lineup of Howard, Nowitzki, Dampier, Jones and Harris was the Mavs’ 10th of the season.
• Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high 31 points (12-24 FGs, 1-4 3FGs, 6-6 FTs). Tonight’s was his 5th game with 30+ points. The Mavs improved to 3-2 when Nowitzki scores above 30.
• Orlando remains winless at American Airlines Center (0-7). In addition, the Mavericks have won the last 10 in Dallas.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,114 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 247 consecutive regular season games at AAC.
• Tonight also marked the 285th consecutive regular/postseason sellout. The Mavs currently have the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Eddie Jones returns to starting 5

Eddie Jones returned to the starting lineup after a 17-game absence tonight. Should things go well, expect to see Jones, Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier together for some time.

It was obvious this morning Jason Terry knew he was headed back to sixth man.

“You never know when it could happen, but I’m ready,” he said slyly. “I’m ready for whatever role they put me in. I embrace it. You have to do out there with a passion and love for the game, especially where we’re at now as a team. Everyone is healthy now. We really want to put this thing together and get a good rhythm.”

Terry thrived off the bench, averaging 17.4 points through the first 14 games. He averaged a bucket less (15.4) in 11 games as a starter.

“Definitely successful,” he said of his duties as sixth man. “I wouldn’t see it being a problem if I had to go back there and do it again. I’ll be ready.”

Ager headed to D-League Tulsa

There’s one less body in the Mavs’ locker room tonight, while the roster of the Tulsa 66ers gained an NBA-experienced shooting guard. Moe Ager was assigned to Dallas’ NBDL affiliate in Oklahoma today.

Ager will be joining rookie forward Nick Fazekas in Tulsa. Ager, in his second year, needs to get some playing time. He’s played just 61 minutes this season.

“I don’t have any minutes for him,” Avery Johnson said. “There are a lot of guys ahead of him.”

The swingman list includes Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Eddie Jones and Devean George. It also doesn’t help that Jason Terry is currently playing alongside Devin Harris.

Fazekas, by the way, appears to be gaining valuable experience with the 66ers, averaging 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds.

Johnson gives Southern commencement

Any chance he gets, Avery Johnson speaks warmly of his alma mater Southern University. Earlier this month, he had the distinct honor and privilege to speak to Southern University.

The experience proved moving for all those involved.

“It was a thrill being invited to be part of the commencement ceremony,” Johnson said. “I’ve never done that type of deal before. I’ve done a lot of other motivation speeches for small groups and big groups, but this was special.

“I just wanted to give the graduates an encouraging and challenging message for this next stage of where they’re going. This is the next level. The next step on the ladder.”

Johnson has climbed many. The New Orleans native made quite an impact on the Southern’s basketball program before graduating in 1988. In two seasons with the Jaguars, Johnson was named Southwestern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and MVP of the conference tournament. He led the NCAA in assists twice, with his 13.3 assists average as a senior still standing as a Division I record.

Southern has asked Johnson to speak to its graduating class since retiring from the NBA in 2004 after 16 seasons, but his schedule with the Mavericks didn’t work out until this season. Johnson happily returned to the Felton G. Clark Activity Center, the same building he starred in two decades ago, on Dec. 7 to deliver the commencement address to 535 graduates and more than 4,000 attendees.

“I wanted to talk from the heart,” he said. “I don’t like really giving speeches, per se. I like to just talk from experience. I mixed in some stories from my time at Southern and even mixed in one NBA story. I wanted to talk to them about something that’s simple yet powerful that they can understand.”

As someone well versed in excelling in the face of long odds, Johnson’s speech had a direct message.

“I talked to them about how to help the ‘inner me’ – i-n-n-e-r-m-e – defeat the ‘enemy’ – e-n-e-m-y,” said Johnson, spelling out both phrases for full effect. “The enemy that’s waiting for them post-graduation, they’re going to need some tools to try to help defeat that enemy. But they’ve got to deal with themselves first. They’ve got to work on themselves first.

“I talked to them about doing what they’ve already done by educating themselves and having high expectations and eliminating some people in their circle that don’t need to be there, and just enjoying the ride.”

Johnson’s ride back to Baton Rouge campus home wasn’t too bad, either. In addition to donning the cap-and-gown for the first time since his own graduation – “That was pretty strange,” he said. “I felt like I was a professor,” – he received an honorary doctorate in Humane Studies. Just call him Dr. General.

“It was just an overall great day,” Johnson said. “To see so many kids that watched me when I played, because I retired so recently, they still wanted to talk about my playing days. They wanted to know about Dirk. They wanted to know about Mark Cuban. How’s the Jet doing? It’s nice that they really follow our team.”

Johnson has never stopped following Southern.

Getting closer to Mavs basketball

Jason Terry was asked if the Mavs view the three-game homestand starting tonight as the light at the end of the tunnel. It does, after all, complete an exhausting stretch of 19 games in 32 days that featured five back-to-backs and never more than one day off at a time.

Terry, though, sees it as another beginning.

“It’s another five-game stretch that we’re trying to put together,” he said. “The last one was decent, but it wasn’t quite up to our expectations. So we start one off tonight and we know what we have to do.

“We know what we have to do on defense. We know the rating we have to achieve to be successful. We know offensive we have to play with movement, swing ball and get out in transition, so the goals are there. Everybody is on the same page and now we can really see what we’re capable of doing as a team.”

Inconsistency was the catchword for the first 20 games. The Mavs set goals for the last five games, Nos. 21-25 on the schedule, and emerged 4-1. There appears to be progress, especially in the last two games.

The Mavs held New Orleans and Houston to an average of 81.5 points. Offensively, Avery Johnson pointed to better ball movement, spacing and scoring balance.

“It’s fun to watch the way the ball has been moving,” he said. “It seems like it’s energized us more, even on the defensive end.”

So are they finally playing Maverick basketball?

“It’s closer,” Johnson said. “We’d still like to score 100, but when teams have been getting in the low 80s, we’ll take that any day. We’ve been having energy, too. We’ve been really alert.”

Dwight Howard leads Magic into AAC

The Celtics are stealing all the headlines, especially in the Eastern Conference, and rightfully so. But the team invading American Airlines Center tonight ain’t looking too shabby.

The Orlando Magic (17-8) currently leads the Southeast Division by a healthy three games. Dwight Howard has to be part of the MVP discussion. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are filling it up from downtown, and Jameer Nelson is running the point effectively when he’s not running his mouth.

You’d think the Magic would have the Mavs’ undivided attention.

“I haven’t watched any film on that team, so I don’t know how those guys are playing,” Erick Dampier deadpanned this morning. “I’m sure they’re a pretty good team, so we just have to go out and play the way we’ve been playing and hopefully we’ll come out victorious.”

Seriously, Dampier and Co. know what they’re up against, particularly inside. Saturday it was Houston’s Yao Ming, the best center in the West, and now it’s Howard, the top dog out East. Howard is averaging 23.7 points, 15.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.

“It’s a different challenge,” Dampier said. “He’s a little bit more athletic than Yao. They throw a lot of lobs to him. He’s able to go up there and finish. He’s not as big as Yao, so he’s a little easier to try and push out of the paint.”

It can’t be that easy. Howard is a taller Amare Stoudamire pre-knee surgery.

“He’s playing on an MVP-type level this year, scoring inside, making his short shots, really a big presence on the defensive end clogging up the paint [and] running the floor,” Avery Johnson said. “Looks like he’s having a lot of fun.”

What the Mavs had to say in Houston

AVERY JOHNSON
(on his team's play against Houston)
"We've won a few games and made a few more shots against a very good basketball team. Our players have taken a defensive challenge the last two games. The Rockets are a very good defensive team and when Yao sits in the lane he makes it tough for us to score."

(on the key to his team's success)
"We need 4, 5 and 6 guys that can consistently get double figures for us. We thought Dampier battled Yao all game. We feel we want to be more physical and our guys are getting it. They know what we do well when we win and we have a plan of attack that we need to stick to. Stackhouse played with emotion on both ends of the court and has lit a fire for our team."

DIRK NOWITZKI
(on Dallas' improved play)
"It's about time. It's December now and there has to be a sense of urgency and the last two games there has been some progress. We're pressing too much and we don't need to worry but to just go out and have fun. You can't get too high or too low because it is a long season."

(on the Rockets and Dallas' recent advantage over them)
"They are a good team and bring out the best in us. It is a fun match-up. All the teams in Texas are good. It seems like every game can go any way and the bounces have gone our way more often.

(on the key to the game)
"Devin Harris was really a key making those 3's for us in the third quarter."

JASON TERRY
(on the difference in Dallas' play)
"We are bringing more of a swagger on defense and we're taking pride on both ends of the court. Coach pointed it out to us. He let us play for 20 games our way and then he took over. More than anything, we're just attacking for 48 minutes."

DEVIN HARRIS
(on his 2nd half shooting)
"I made some shots. They started Tracy on me and I came out and hit my shots and it was down hill from there."

(on Dallas' play)
"It's so much easier when you have 4 or 5 guys who can get the job done. We are taking one thing at a time and we have to get better each game.Then we can take it to the next level. The energy is the most important thing."

JERRY STACKHOUSE
(on the team's recent play)
"It's all about energy and having fun. We put too much pressure on ourselves. We need to create our own enthusiasm and our guys need to be talking to each other and we are responding."

(on his play)
"I'm making a conscious effort to bring more energy and to get our team going. We still have room to grow and we are getting better."

(on the difference when the game was tied at 51)
"We got aggressive and started putting more pressure on them. Then it was a matter of closing out the game. We set our defensive strategy better and we were more aggressive."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Notables from 96-83 win at Houston

POST-GAME NOTES
Houston Rockets (12-12) vs. Dallas Mavericks (16-9)
Dec. 15, 2007 -- Toyota Center
Final Score: Dallas 96, Houston 83

Houston Leaders
Points: Yao Ming-28
Rebounds: Yao Ming-14
Assists: Yao Ming-3, Tracy McGrady-3, Steve Francis-3

Dallas Leaders
Points: Josh Howard-23
Rebounds: Dirk Nowitzki-6
Assists: Dirk Nowitzki-8

* Tonight's attendance of 18,307 marks Houston's largest crowd of the season and the eighth overall sellout at Toyota Center in 2007-08.
* Houston's 96-83 loss tonight snapped its three-game home winning streak. The Rockets have now lost six consecutive meetings with the Mavericks, including the last three at Toyota Center .
* The Mavericks connected on 36-of-71 (.507) from the field and 17-of-18 (.944) from the free throw line, becoming the first team this season to shoot .500 or better against the Rockets while connecting on .900 or better from the foul line.
* Dallas also outscored the Rockets 30-20 in the third quarter, forcing nine Houston turnovers in that period.
* Houston out-rebounded Dallas 40-29 (+11) tonight, marking the seventh time this season the Rockets have out-rebounded an opponent by a double-digit margin.
* The Rockets actually held the Mavericks to 13 points in the second quarter, which matched the opponent season low for that period. The Spurs also managed just 13 second-quarter points against the Rockets at Houston (11/6/07).
* Yao Ming finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. Overall, Yao has outscored his counterparts, Gana Diop (12) and Erick Dampier (2), by a 79-14 margin over the three games played between the Rockets and Mavericks this season. Yao also had 30 points, a season-high 15 rebounds and a season-best six blocked shots in the last meeting vs. Dallas(11/21/07) at Toyota Center, while Diop and Dampier both went scoreless in that game.
* Yao Ming actually had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half of tonight's game. It marked the first time this season and the eighth time in his career to post a double-double by halftime. His last time to accomplish this was 20 points and 10 boards over the first two quarters at the L.A. Lakers (4/2/06).
* Shane Battier, who took four stitches to close a cut on his head suffered in the first quarter, hit 3-of-5 3-pointers en route to 11 points.
* Tracy McGrady also suffered a bruised left knee in tonight's game, but returned for the start of the third quarter.
* Steve Francis got the start for Houston tonight with Rafer Alston out as a precautionary measure with a sore groin.
* Josh Howard (23) and Dirk Nowitzki (20) led five Mavericks in double-figure scoring tonight. Dallas has now had two players reach 20 or more points in each of the three meetings this season (Terry-31 and Jo. Howard-21 on 11/5/07; Harris-22 and Jo. Howard-20 on 11/21/07).

Effort carries over in third Rockets win

HOUSTON – The Mavericks have been looking for carryover. From practice to practice. From game to game. From quarter to quarter.

Whatever the time frame or circumstance, the search for carryover from one performance to the next was put to the test Saturday night. Finishing a back-to-back against a division rival coming off two-day break is about as stiff a challenge as there is in the NBA.

The Mavs rose to the occasion and clamped down on Houston to escape the Toyota Center with a 96-83 victory. In beating Houston for the third time in three tries already this season, Dallas (16-9) appears to be turning a corner.

“It’s about time,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “It’s December now and there has to be a sense of urgency and the last two games there has been some progress. We’re pressing too much and we don’t need to worry, but to just go out and have fun. You can’t get too high or too low because it is a long season.”

The Mavs gave themselves a personal challenge for the last five games.

“Our defense really picked up,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “We’re 4-1. We wanted to look at it as a playoff series and 4-1 will do it every time.”

Westphal suggested starting Jones

Avery Johnson has referred to Paul Westphal as a “calming” influence. Westphal has quietly made his presence felt in his first season on Johnson’s staff, but the former head coach couldn’t convince the current one of starting Eddie Jones last night against New Orleans.

Johnson was asked before tonight’s game at Houston when Jones might be ready move into the role envisioned for the veteran shooting guard.

“A couple more games,” Johnson replied. “I thought about starting him last night. Paul tried to talk me into it, but I just thought I wanted to wait a couple more games just to give him a few more minutes.”

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mixing it up to down Hornets

The combinations were different. The substitution patterns tweaked. The Mavericks shook some things up Friday night and out tumbled a win.

It wasn’t always pretty. The Hornets made their runs. There were defensive breakdowns and offensive bog downs for Dallas. The reigning MVP never found his shot.

But the good outweighed the bad, as the Mavs outlasted Southwest Division rival New Orleans 89-80 two weeks after falling in overtime in the Big Easy. Jason Terry scored a game-high 25 for Dallas, which has won three of its last four.

“I thought for most of the game we executed the game plan,” Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. “We executed our system. They missed some shots, but we were very competitive tonight. Lots of energy.”

Especially defensively. After torturing Dallas a couple weeks back, Chris Paul was held in relative check. David West and Peja Stojakovic – 17 combined points – were shut down. The Hornets as a team were held to 36-percent shooting and the 80 points allowed were the fewest given up since Portland hit the same number Nov. 30.

Jerry Stackhouse typified the basket-protecting effort with a game-turning third-quarter block. With the score tied at 54-all – the Hornets had just taken the lead moments earlier – New Orleans jitterbug Bobby Jackson broke away from an apparent easy layup.

Notables from 89-80 win over New Orleans

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: DAL led 41-25 with 3:52 remaining in the 1st half. The Hornets then went on a 27-10 run (to 5:39 remaining in 3rd quarter) to take their only lead, 52-51. DAL used a 10-5 run to finish the 3rd quarter and led 61-57 going into the 4th. The Mavericks went on an overall 16-5 run (between 5:39 left in 3Q and 10:09 to go in 4Q). At the end of the run, DAL led 67-57.

QUICK HITS
• The Mavericks held the Hornets to 13 1st quarter points – the lowest total for a quarter this season. The Cavaliers had two 15-point quarters (1st and 4th) in the season opener (10/31/07) in Cleveland.
• Josh Howard finished with his 5th double-double of the season (15 points, 10 rebounds). The Mavs improved to 4-1 when Howard records a double-double.
• Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-low 7 points (2-8 FGs, 3-4 FTs), but added 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. (Last season, he had two 6-point outings – vs. TOR on 11/29/06 and @ SEA on 12/20/06)
• Hornets guard Chris Paul led the Hornets with 25 points, but dished out a season-low 3 assists. (Previous low was 4 assists @ ATL on 11/30)
• Hornets forward David West scored a season-low 7 points (2-10 FGs, 0-1 3FGs, 3-4 FTs). (Previous season-low was 9 vs. DET on 12/5)
•Hornets forward Peja Stojakovic left the game in the 4th quarter with a re-aggravated left groin injury.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,071 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 246 consecutive regular season games at AAC.
• Tonight also marked the 284th consecutive regular/postseason sellout. The Mavs currently have the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Devin Harris responds to Jameer Nelson

There should be a little extra something to Monday’s matchup of point guards. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson recently brought up Devin Harris as a reference point to his ongoing contract negotiations.

“I think I’m a better player, and I mean more to my team,” Nelson said according to published reports. “My numbers are better. Yeah, he’s bigger, but he’s not a legit 6-3. I’m a legit 6-1.”

Nelson was joking about his height, but not about his demands. There appears to be a divide in the neighborhood of $10 milion between Nelson and the Magic.

Harris is aware of Nelson’s comments. Harris decided to take the high road, but isn’t about to apologize for his contact.

“What they don’t understand is a team figures your worth,” Harris said. “It’s not me. They see what you’re worth and they’re going to present that to you. I’m sure a lot of people think they deserve more, but it comes down to reality.”

Asked if he’s aware of when the Magic come to town, Harris simply said: “Soon.”

General works in a democracy

For a coach and a team that loves to practice, the last four weeks have provided quite a challenge. The Mavericks haven’t had more than one day off since a Nov. 18-19 break.

It won’t let up until a four-day respite starting Dec. 22. Couple the breakneck schedule with the team’s recent haze, and Avery Johnson has taken a serious look at how the team prepares.

“Get a little practice and try to keep the team a little fresh,” he said Friday before facing New Orleans. “We haven’t responded to practice, we haven’t gotten a carryover like we have in the past, so it’s made me take a serious evaluation on how we practice and when we practice. I actually thought we’d be able to practice a little bit more this year, but that may not be the case.”

Johnson came into the season by tweaking the normal routine. One of the changes is more time in the weight room in an effort to keep the team “stronger longer.”

Johnson recently met with trainer Casey Smith to discuss, among other things, when the team lifts. He may consider moving practice times, though this team prefers getting into the gym around noon.

Johnson just doesn’t want to get too radical.

“The one thing you don’t want to do is outfox yourself,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just simple. You don’t have to get too creative.”

And he plans to continue receiving feedback from those who carry out the orders.

“This is not a dictatorship,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the keys. As much as you guys think I’m all hands on and whatever this picture is you’ve painted of me, I do listen to my team.”

Eddie Jones staying fresh

Eddie Jones played 15 ½ minutes in his return to the lineup Wednesday at Toronto. He missed his only shot, a 3-pointer, and collected three rebounds, two assists, two fouls, a steal and a turnover.

Avery Johnson rated the performance, Jones’ first in 15 games, as OK. That’s not bad considering the kind of day it was for EJ.

“He ran three or five miles on the treadmill earlier that morning,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to do that today. We’re just going to save him now just for games. He finally has met his weight and that was exciting news.”

Johnson has made a big deal of Jones’ losing weight during his rehab stint.

“He must have not eaten for about two days because it was like a boxer when you go for the weight,” Johnson added. “I just don’t want him to take off his shirt.”

Dirk's early All-Star returns solid

Dirk Nowitzki has made six All-Star teams. He’s never been voted a starter. (He did start last year because Yao Ming was out.) You can vote for Dirk and the other Mavs on the ballot here at mavs.com (where you can win daily prizes) or at nba.com.

Nowitzki is off to a good start this season, currently sitting second among Western Conference forwards. Fans pick the starting five, while conference coaches choose the seven reserves.

Here are the first returns for the West:

Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (Den) 482,127; Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 443,117; Tim Duncan (SA) 423,608; Carlos Boozer (Utah) 175,248; Shawn Marion (Pho) 154,641; Josh Howard (Dal) 146,909; Kevin Durant (Sea) 113,314; Luis Scola (Hou) 101,981; Shane Battier (Hou) 95,757; Grant Hill (Pho) 83,544.

Guards: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 569,302; Tracy McGrady (Hou) 388,959; Steve Nash (Pho) 317,091; Allen Iverson (Den) 292,565; Manu Ginobili (SA) 141,891; Jason Terry (Dal) 121,397; Tony Parker (SA) 117,881; Chris Paul (NO) 110,688; Jerry Stackhouse (Dal) 103,307; Baron Davis (GS) 100,422.

Centers: Yao Ming (Hou) 439,125; Amaré Stoudemire (Pho) 286,401; Erick Dampier (Dal) 101,878; Marcus Camby (Den) 94,473; Pau Gasol (Mem) 73,461; Mehmet Okur (Utah) 51,017; Chris Kaman (LAC) 40,256; LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 35,601; Tyson Chandler (NO) 32,595; Andris Biedrins (GS) 29,026.

Catching up with Brandon Bass

Hornets.com caught up with Brandon Bass during the visit to New Orleans earlier this month. As many of you know, Bass is from Louisiana and began his pro career with the Hornets.

Check out the interview at Hornets.com. Here's a snippet:

Hornets.com: Being that you grew up in Louisiana, describe how it feels getting to come home and play in front of a lot of friends and family.

Bass: It’s a good feeling, a little weird, getting to come home and play against your former team and in front of a lot of family and friends. It is pretty much the first time my family will get to see me actually play as an NBA player, so I’m going to enjoy it.

Hornets.com: What’s been behind your vast improvement in production this season with the Mavericks?

Bass: I think just sticking with it. Sometimes things don’t go as planned early on, but if you stick with it you can overcome some things, and that is what I did in this situation.

Devin Harris back tonight vs. Hornets

Devin Harris looked healthy and rested this morning, and will return to the lineup tonight against New Orleans at American Airlines Center. The stomach virus that knocked the starting point guard out of Wednesday’s loss at Toronto has subsided.

“Devin should be OK,” Avery Johnson said. “He went through shootaround. We definitely need his spend tonight to contain Paul the best that we can and also try to make him play some defense.”

Chris Paul scored 33 points in the Hornets’ 112-108 overtime win over Dallas back on Dec. 1, as New Orleans snapped a 21-game losing streak in the series.

“He’s really playing some outstanding basketball,” Johnson said. “He’s really dangerous right now. He’s making his shots. We know he’s a great leader, floor general, so he’s been giving a lot of teams difficulty right now. He’s playing at the top of his game.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What the Mavs had to say in Toronto

AVERY JOHNSON
Toronto came out and dictated the pace in the second quarter…
Yes, that was the key to the game. We got off to a slow start, but that beginning to the second quarter kind of reminded us of the end of the third quarter against the Knicks. Man, we just weren’t very good and that’s where they got control of the game. I thought we made a little bit of a run at the end of the third, and they finished off the third better than we did. We outscored them 23-21 in the third, much better quarter for us but we gave up 33 points in the second. They pretty much had control of the game the rest of the way.

Were they doing something to you offensively to get you out of sync?
We were out of sync from the start. The first play of the game that we ran is something that we normally run and we just didn’t run it right. We were out of sync from the start. We just didn’t do a good job offensively for the rest of the night.

On Dirk Nowitzki….
He just couldn’t get it going tonight. Josh (Howard) was keeping us in there for a minute. Jet was keeping us in there for a minute but we just couldn’t get going tonight overall.

DIRK NOWITZKI (13 points, nine rebounds)
Thoughts on the game…
I don’t think we were good all night at both ends of the floor. We couldn’t make shots. We shot 38 per cent on the road, that makes it tough to win a game. Plus defensively we weren’t sharp, giving up transition buckets. We were down 20 early and then we had to fight back all game. That is tough, especially against a good team. They are a great home team, so they deserved to win as we weren’t very good.

On the team’s defense…
We have to be better defensively to win, especially on the road consistently. We have to do it with energy, getting back in transition, contesting shots even though sometimes the guy might be open, you still have to go out there and do your best. (Kris) Humphries killed us on the glass, which is all hustle. You have to put a body on him and get the rebounds defensively. We just have to get better defensively if we want to win ball games, especially on the road. At home we can outscore people, if you want to win on the road consistently you have to get stops.

JASON TERRY (21 points, two rebounds)
Thoughts on Chris Bosh…

I had a bad night myself. I had two turnovers in the first two possessions. I didn’t execute a play and that is something that you can’t have when you are trying to get a good start on the road. We weathered the storm there for a minute. When you score 76 points, and they score 92 we should easily win that game 100-92 or vice versa we should easily win that game 78-76. We have got to get some stops. We didn’t rebound the ball well at all tonight.

Coach mentioned it looked like they had more energy than you tonight…
They played last night, so that is kind of mystifying. Give them credit once again they are a good team. They were amped up because T.J. (Ford) was out, but we still have to come out and take care of business. Like I said, give them credit, they outworked us all night.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lackluster Mavs fall hard at Toronto

TORONTO – The Mavericks didn’t give up a lead this time. They never had one.

Dallas native Chris Bosh led the balanced Raptors to a wire-to-wire 92-76 victory Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre. The sluggish Mavs (14-9) had their two-game winning streak snapped in the finale of a quick two-game road trip. Dallas had also won eight straight against Toronto.

The Mavs were without point guard Devin Harris, who came down with a stomach virus the night before. The Raptors had little sympathy. Toronto completed a road-home back-to-back sweep without point guard TJ Ford, who took a violent fall in Tuesday’s win at Atlanta.

Bosh led five Raptors in double figures with 17 points. Toronto (13-10) looked a step quicker from the start, jumping out to an early 5-0 edge that forced a timeout from Avery Johnson.

The Mavs appeared to wake up momentarily before their defense was sliced up in the second quarter. The Raptors were a picture of ball movement and balance, as Toronto took an 18-point lead (54-36) into the half.

Nine Raptors scored in the second quarter – none more than seven points – as Toronto outscored Dallas 33-19. Dirk Nowitzki was the only Maverick in sync offensively, with 11 points and five assists at the break, but the reigning MVP couldn’t do it alone.

Nice job, Butterfingers

A loose ball took out the beer of a guy seated in the front row here late in the second quarter. The spill caused a little delay since it had to be cleaned up by one of the ball boys before play could continue.

During the break, official Gary Zielinski had this to say to the offending fan: “If you’re going to sit in those seats, you either have to save the beer or save the ball. And you did neither.”

The "Real" Mavs are coming

I asked Avery Johnson if he’s seen the real Eddie Jones yet. Johnson took the question in another direction.

“You haven’t seen the real Mavericks,” he said. “Put it like that. Forget Eddie, you haven’t seen the real Mavericks. How about that?”

Johnson’s 20-game evaluation of the team revealed as many questions as answers. Johnson has made some changes, taken some things out, added others and put a new set of challenges into place.

“We have to play some shorter games within games to challenge ourselves,” he said. “I thought we were coasting a little bit too much, especially defensively.”

He does expect to see the real Mavs at some point.

“Sometime soon hopefully,” Johnson said, “but the good news is we haven’t seen them hardly at all early in this season. You’ve seen bits and pieces. You saw a little bit of them in the first half of the Knicks. You saw them offensively against Utah. You saw them early in the season in a game against the Spurs.”

Johnson added that there’s plenty of room for improvement and the plan is a steady climb through the rest of the regular season.

Delayed by Toronto traffic

If the Mavs get out of the gates a little slow tonight, it might be because they’re a little bit behind schedule. Because of gridlock here in downtown Toronto, the two busses hauling the team to the arena were late.

I’m on the first bus, which left the hotel at 4:40 p.m. local time. We got to the arena at about 5:20. That’s about 20 minutes late. The second bus – the one with Avery Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and others – didn’t get here until 5:45 or about 75 minutes before tip-off.

The locker room opens up 90 minutes before the game, so there was a little scramble to get ready and start the routines. Maybe next time we’ll take the subway.

Harris and Ford out, Jones back

Starting point guards Devin Harris and TJ Ford are out tonight. Suffering from a stomach virus, Harris stayed back at the hotel. He’ll meet the team at the airport after the game for the flight back to Dallas.

Ford could also be in the building later. He took a scary fall last night in Atlanta, hitting his head on the court before being wheeled off in a stretcher. Ford stayed in Atlanta overnight for observation. A battery of neurological tests came back negative, according to team officials, which is good news.

Eddie Jones will be activated for the first time since Nov. 13. The shooting guard is taking a cautious approach as to his return. “If shots come my way, they come,” he said. His focus, however, is defense and rebounding.

JJ Barea will take on a bigger role without Harris. The third-string point guard had been slowed by a sprained joint in his right shoulder, which limited movement. He said that other than being a little sore, he’s fine.

Harris sick and Jones on the verge

Devin Harris missed today’s morning shootaround with a stomach illness. He stayed back at the team hotel to rest. He’ll be a game-time decision tonight against Toronto.

Eddie Jones, officially listed as day-to-day, could be activated. Jones is itching to play and has met most of rehab goals set by Avery Johnson. If Jones doesn’t play tonight, look for his return Friday back in Dallas against New Orleans.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Avoiding more cold (play) in Canada

TORONTO – The flurries awaiting the Mavericks after reconvening Tuesday afternoon north of the border had little to do with the white stuff blowing outside.

Winter Storm Avery Johnson touched down on the practice court inside the Air Canada Centre after originating in New York. The second-half letdown against the Knicks the night before was still being felt during the focused two-hour workout.

“The film session was a little tense,” Jerry Stackhouse admitted. “I think just from a matter of the letdown, so many good things happened for two-and-half quarters for us. But just a couple bad possessions then all of a sudden it snowballed into more of a game than we liked.”

Sure, the Mavs (14-8) beat New York by 10, but considering their 23-point third-quarter lead was chopped to seven with plenty of time left, the win lost some of its luster. Dallas also had an uneven performance last month against the Raptors, rallying from 24 down to win.

“We just need to be mentally tougher, everyone, from one to five,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We can’t give up easy layups offensively, transition baskets, and [need to] work on our pick-and-roll coverage.

“We just have to challenge ourselves mentally and stay in the game whether we’re up one or 15. We knew they weren’t going to give up. They kept making shots and kept coming back.”

Read the rest of this note and more at mavs.com.

Eddie Jones wants to play vs. Raptors

Eddie Jones finished up practice today with a drill that was draining just to watch. Sprinting from one end of the court to the other, Jones had to shoot 3-pointers from 11 spots on the floor. The goal was to make eight.

He started strong, receiving encouragement from his teammates along the way. Jerry Stackhouse was on his feet cheering him on. As Jones began to slow down, Avery Johnson pushed him on: “Fight through Eddie.”

Jones didn’t make the eight. He kept shooting in the final corner to finish up on a make. Johnson was satisfied. Jones is close to his weight requirement and has met his conditioning goals.

“He worked awfully hard today,” Johnson said. “He’s trying really hard.”

Depending on how he recovers, Jones could play against the Raptors. He sure wants to.

“I feel all right,” he said between breaths. “I’m excited. I’m going to try to make it happen.”

Stack: Stay home booing Knicks fans

Not only did the fans at Madison Square Garden last night heartily voice their dissatisfaction with the Knicks and Isiah Thomas, they booed a young boy singing Frank Sinatra tunes at halftime.

There’s no place like New York.

“I’ve been in situations like that in Philadelphia and it’s tough,” Jerry Stackhouse said today after practice in Toronto. “You just wish they would stay their ass home. Why come to the game and boo? Come and support.

“That’s how fickle Northeastern fans can be or fans in general. If they were able to turn it around somehow and go on a nice 10-game winning streak, Isiah can do no wrong and Dolan made the right move sticking with him.”

MSG chairman James Dolan recently gave Thomas a vote of confidence.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dirk lights up Big Apple for 36

NEW YORK – Jerry Stackhouse whipped a pass behind his back to Erick Dampier cutting on the baseline late in the second quarter. An easy layup followed, as did a timeout from embattled Knicks coach Isiah Thomas.

The Mavericks’ off-Broadway performance Monday night had several jaw-dropping moments, in addition to a bit of drama before the curtain fell.

Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-high 36 for Dallas, which upped its modest winning streak to two with a showing that bordered on dominating at times, included a second-half lull, and disintegrated into a scene that’s become all too familiar recently at Madison Square Garden.

Fans packing the world’s most famous arena chanted “Fire Isiah” when they weren’t booing through most of the Mavs’ 99-89 victory. Dallas (14-8) concludes its brief two-game trip Wednesday night at Toronto.