Thursday, November 8, 2007

It's not how you start...

Compared to this time last year, the Mavericks are off to a smoking-hot start. Compared to how the Warriors finished off the last season, no one could have expected a winless first week of the season.

What does it mean? Apparently, not much.

“It’s so early. This stuff doesn’t matter,” Dirk Nowitzki said this morning. “We started 0-4 last year. A lot of the good teams just go through stuff early. The start is overrated. It’s how you finish.”

Not that the reigning MVP is complaining about the 2007-08 kickoff. Nowitzki is impressed with new teammates Eddie Jones, Trenton Hassell and Brandon Bass, and Jason Terry’s transition to sixth man.

“I like all the new guys,” Nowitzki said. “They’re fitting in really well. Eddie and Hassell are really giving us perimeter defense. Jet looks great in that role. It seems to me at the beginning of the game when he was starting, he was always worrying, ‘Hey, I’ve got to Dirk a shot, I’ve got to get Josh involved.’ Now he’s just playing with instinct like he always has, coming out and shooting and scoring.

“I think it’s been great for everybody. It’s been fun to watch him just enjoy that role. Bass is going to be great. He’s really an animal. We’ve tried with a backup shooter the last couple years with Keith [Van Horn] and Austin [Croshere], and it didn’t work out the way we wanted to. We went with a different route and I think it’s been great.”

Rethinking the philosophy behind Nowitzki was one of the subtle, yet significant changes in the team’s approach. Avery Johnson took a hard look at himself and the expectations of the franchise over the offseason.

“We found out that we do a lot of things well,” he said. “The problem that we’ve run into and wanted to create was when you’re one of top four-to-six teams in the league and you don’t win it, the scrutiny is higher. But I asked the team when I took over, ‘Do you want that?’ And they said yes.

“So that’s where we are now. That’s where we wanted to be, but the rewards are great. If you are one of those top four or six teams, you really have a chance to probably win it one of these years. We had a chance to one year and had a chance to another year, but just had a bad stretch in the first round.”

The chance remains.

“We have all the pieces that we need,” Nowitzki continued. “We can’t prove that until the playoffs. Nothing that we do in the regular season will matter, even if we go 81-1, since we already lost one. We can’t go 82-0 anymore. But anything we do now in the regular season doesn’t matter. We’ve got to play our best in April and May.”

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