Saturday, October 13, 2007

Much accomplished in 90-86 loss to Wizards

The lineup the Mavericks ran out for most of Saturday night seemed fitting for the environment. The Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University has seen its share of good ball the last couple years.

Just not NBA ball.

The Mavs did their part in promoting the college vibe, right along with the school’s rock-heavy pep band. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse sat out, dimming the NBA star power. (The hometown fans did get Wizards stalwarts Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.)

Instead, those in the auditorium were treated to heavy doses of JJ Barea, Brandon Bass, Moe Ager and Nick Fazekas on the Dallas side. That’s not to say the Mavs didn’t get a lot done in the 90-86 setback.

"Hair Gel, Hair Gel!!"

The crowd at the Patriot Center here on the George Mason campus wasn’t treated to Dirk Nowitzki, but it didn’t seem to matter with JJ Barea on the floor. Led by the school’s band, chants of “Hair Gel” rained down every time Northeastern product Barea touched the ball.
“They said worse things when I was in college,” he pointed out.
It seems the second-year point guard had much longer hair during his collegiate days, and George Mason and Northeastern are rivals in the Colonial Athletic Conference. Gotta love college fans.

Captain Gana

The two captains tonight are Devin Harris for the third straight time and newbie Gana Diop, who scored six (3-4 FGs) and grabbed four boards Friday at Chicago. Diop has been working on his positioning inside and was praised for knocking down a couple in the paint.

“It was good, you know he went 2-for-100 this summer in Vegas,” Avery Johnson said laughing. “My son called me after the game last night and said, Daddy, Gana missed all of his shots in Vegas, but he made two last night.”

No Dirk, Stack or Jet

The rotation is a little thin tonight without Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse against Washington. All three are healthy. It’s just part of the plan to give select veterans games off during the preseason. Terry, out the last two games, will play in the last five exhibitions.

The starting 5: Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Gana Diop, Eddie Jones and Bandon Bass. It’s the first action for Jones and the first start for Bass. Avery Johnson added that he’ll probably use a regular-season rotation in the seventh preseason game (Oct. 23 vs. New Orleans).

Jones will probably play the first eight minutes and 16-18 minutes total, all in the first half. Moe Ager will probably start the third quarter, Johnson said.

Much-maligned Barea shines

It’s too soon to say if JJ Barea is out of Avery Johnson’s doghouse, but the performance from the reserve point guard last night was definitely a step in the right direction. Barea was solid – even spectacular at times – during 28 ½ minutes against Chicago.

His 17 points were second on the team to Josh Howard’s 18 and his five assists were one shy of Devin Harris’s total. Johnson went so far as to categorize a pass from Barea on the break as “special.” For someone called out earlier in the week by his coach, the Puerto Rican Allen Iverson looked confident and in control.

“I love this offense,” Barea said. “The way he coaches this offense and the way he coaches me out there, I love the pick and rolls that he does. Our system is perfect for me. I’m enjoying it and trying to do my best every time out.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tidbits from pregame in Chicago

Tonight’s captains are Josh Howard (we knew that) and Devin Harris. Remember, two will be picked for each game. Harris is two-for-two, so far. The primary responsibilities involve communicating with the officials, though Avery Johnson’s recognition is bigger reward.

Jerry Stackhouse will take his turn on the healthy scratch list for tomorrow night’s game at Washington. Eddie Jones will make his preseason debut against the Wizards.

Jones, by the way, feels confident he’ll meet his Oct. 25 deadline for being in game shape. “I have to get my body fat down,” he said. “It’s not there yet.” Jones didn’t want to talk specifics – could you blame him? – but said 40 extra minutes of cardio a day, along with practice, should do the trick.

I asked Johnson how Gana Diop was going. “Gana’s been good,” Avery said. “We’ve seen him improve. He’s finishing around the basket. He’s making his free throws more. He just knows where he needs to be. Gana is one of our smarter players.”

Gana said that going into this third year in the Mavs system, he’s finally moved past the habits he picked up in Cleveland. He watched a lot of film over the summer and realized his positioning near the basket offensively wasn’t as good as Erick Dampier’s. Getting to those spots in practice, Diop has found it easier to finish strong at the rim.

As for being labeled as one of the smartest, Gana said: "Oak Hill, baby." Whatever.

Memo to Bugs: Don't mess with Dirk

Do you remember Dirk taking out an insect intruder on the podium during the 2006 NBA Finals? Well, he's a refresher along with a video game courtesy of Dirk's Nike site in Germany. Click on "Play the Game" at the bottom right of the page.

I told Dirk I scored about 750 on it. His reply: "You've got no life if you're playing that." Hey, it's your game.

Is Dirk the next Karl Malone?

Much like you would expect in football, the defense is ahead of the offense right now. Part of the reason, Avery Johnson explained, is having more “physical guys.”

“Trenton, from the day he hit the court, our defense was better,” Johnson said. “Josh is competing more defensively. He’s staying in place more. Much more disciplined than he was. Dirk is competing there more in this training camp than he did last year.

“And the team is stronger. They’re giving me a hard time about the weight training, especially when Dirk’s little shot doesn’t fall. But they’re getting stronger.”

So how much has Nowitzki bulked up?

“He said ‘I’m Karl Malone,’” Johnson said, rolling his eyes. “He’ll never get there.”

Is Hassell the next Griff?

Running into Adrian Griffin, one of the all-time nice guys, in the hallway of the United Center today got me to thinking. Yes, that can be dangerous. Avery Johnson often brings up finding an “Adrian Griffin with a little more offense” when asked about the off-guard spot.

So I asked Johnson if the addition of Trenton Hassell and Eddie Jones helps end that search.

“This gives us our best chance,” Johnson said. “We even have a better chance than we had last year. Trenton has been awfully good, boy. He does a lot of things that you can’t teach. The instincts and physicality and being in the right place defensively. His post game is a lot better than we thought.”

Hassell could be that guy to start with Devin Harris in the backcourt. In any event, Johnson continued to praise Hassell: “We think he can help us in a lot of areas.”

Getting back to Griffin. He also asked how Gana Diop, his favorite teammate during his last tour through Dallas, was doing. “That’s my boy,” Diop said. “I learned a lot from Griff.”

Jones and Jet out vs. Bulls

Eddie Jones and Jason Terry are both scratches tonight against Chicago. Jones didn’t play in the preseason opener Tuesday after tweaking his hamstring last week. He’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night against Washington at George Mason University.

Terry is fine. Avery Johnson’s plan is to give select veterans a game or two off during preseason and it’s Terry’s turn.

Jones’ conditioning has been a topic through the early stages of camp. The 14-year vet was joking with Johnson at practice this week that he’ll be in game shape by Oct. 25. “I’m buying it,” Johnson said. “If he said it, I’m buying it.”

“He’s not where we want him to be,” Johnson added seriously. “But he thinks in about two weeks with all the extra conditioning that he’s doing he should be at a place where we really feel comfortable with him.”

A job for Pippen?

A couple times in camp so far Avery Johnson has alluded to time spent with Scottie Pippen during the offseason. The former Bulls great attended Johnson’s annual coaching retreat last month at his home in The Woodlands, along with assistants Joe Prunty and Paul Westphal. Mario Elie hadn’t been hired yet.

Pippen, one of the better-conditioned athletes around during this playing days, shared his ideas on staying fresh on the 82-game grind. The Mavs have adopted some of those techniques in their strength-and-conditioning program.

I asked Johnson if he considered Pippen for this staff. “We don’t want to go down there, but he was very helpful,” he answered. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

Sure. The Mavs visit the old stomping grounds of their unofficial consultant tonight against the Bulls at the United Center.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

J-Ho earns a "C"

Avery Johnson has instituted a new routine throughout preseason – rotating captains for each game. The qualifications: Bust your tail in practice and games.

Josh Howard earned his “C” for Friday night at Chicago. Johnson after practice Thursday: “We’ve been voting on our captains after every practice and Josh, he doesn’t know it yet, is going to be one of the captains in Chicago because of the way he’s been busting.”

Two will be elected for each game. The team and the coaching staff will vote at the end of the preseason on captains for the regular season. Sounds like an opportunity to set up a “Dancing with the Stars” voting system.

“Maybe some of those guys who really want it, we’ll have a number that you can dial in,” Johnson quipped.

Bass fishing

Brandon Bass’ first game in a Mavs uniform went pretty well. He finished tallied 10 points (5-12 FGs) and seven rebounds Tuesday against San Antonio. All of the points and five of the boards came in the second half.

“I had to get comfortable out there, but that came when I played a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t really played much over the last two years so it felt really good to be out there playing some minutes.”

Bass (6-8, 240) spent his first two season with the Hornets before signing with Dallas. Avery Johnson calls the rock-solid power forward the “Animal.”

“Bass is pretty much what we thought he is,” Johnson said. “He’s a strong player, inside and out – pretty strong rebounder, just a physical presence. Hopefully, you just saw a dose of what you’ll be seeing all year.”

Another hint at the 2?

Jason Terry could start at shooting guard (2) or come off the bench there and at the point (1) behind Devin Harris. Avery Johnson wants to keep people guessing, as evident in this quote about Terry.

“We still like him at 2,” Johnson said. “He and Devin playing together is really a nice combination, like I’ve been saying. When they are exclusively 1s, we think we can have one of the better combinations in the league.”

That doesn’t clear anything up . . . and Johnson likes it that way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

J-Ho stars in practice

If Josh Howard were still in grade school, he would have earned a Superstar sticker today for coloring inside the lines. Or at least Avery Johnson’s equivalent of Superstar sticker.

“Our best player today in practice was Josh Howard,” the Mavericks coach announced after the team’s workout at American Airlines Center.

Heady words, to be sure. Johnson proceeded to illustrate how Howard’s maturity translated to the practice court.

“He was in every drill,” Johnson explained. “Sometimes you get guys trying to hide in drills. He was out front and center in every drill. “That’s something that I talked to him about before the season. I wanted him to act a little bit more like he was a senior at Wake Forest.”

That doesn’t mean Howard needs to change his personality. Johnson isn’t asking him to stand up and take a prime leadership role. Howard, for one, considers Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry and Johnson the team’s Big Men on Campus.

“This team is full of leaders,” Howard said. “I like to lead by example.”

He has that covered. Howard’s work ethic transformed an overlooked prospect picked at the bottom of the first round into an All-Star by his fourth season, albeit as a commissioner’s selection. (Howard is quick to remind everyone that the coaches didn’t vote him to last year’s All-Star team.)

MC checks in after DWTS

Remember, Mark and Kym are dancing for you guys out there and they appreciate all you’ve done. Keep going to the Dancing with the Stars polls.

We caught up with MC quickly after another successful week. They’re in Round 4 and looking stronger every time out. So far they’ve done the cha-cha, mambo and jive. Prepare for a step back in time with the waltz.

Was the “jive” your favorite dance so far?
It was a fun dance, but practicing it was not easy at all. The key to the dance is what they call “bounce action,” getting your legs up and down very fast. I could do it, but I was scared my hip wasn’t going to like it. I was sore after every practice. And it wasn’t a good sore. But now I have the waltz. I get to channel my inner James Bond.

What are you looking forward to out of the waltz?
Showing my elegant and as Kym would say “proper” side.

Do you have a favorite judge? Feel free to take the fifth.
Joey Crawford.

Ever worry about Kym “revealing” too much in those outfits?
Are you serious?

I think we saw another MJ-tongue-waging moment?
I don’t remember, I have no idea.

Breaking down some minutes

Basketball is the only sport where people routinely break down minutes. As much as who’s playing where or who’s starting, we want to know how much court time everyone will get.

There’s an art and a science to breaking down minutes and putting together different combinations. Jerry Stackhouse joked that he’s a part of the team’s best and worst lineups.

Avery Johnson talked a little about the backcourt rotation today. He can’t help it since we keep asking about it.

Jason Terry averaged 16.7 points in 35.1 minutes last year. “I’d like to see [his minutes] go down and him be more effective,” Johnson said.

Whether or not Terry starts, Johnson assured that all parties are on board: “Absolutely. No doubt there. It will not be an issue.” Same goes for Terry: “Wherever he inserts me in that’s where I’ll be playing.”

Devin Harris logged 26 minutes per game last year, and Johnson was playfully coy on the subject of playing time for his point guard. “Somewhere between 25 and 40,” Johnson said. “That would put is where – 32? That’s what you write. Say he’s going to average 32 minutes.”

As for Jerry Stackhouse, 24-minute guy last season, Johnson prefers the status quo. “I want him about the same,” he said, adding Stackhouse is most effective playing in burst of 5-7 minutes.

Barea still needs to pick it up

The Mavs were up only 64-60 early in the fourth quarter Tuesday night before finishing off San Antonio with a 22-7 run. JJ Barea scored 11 of his 13 points during that spurt and added three assists.

Avery Johnson has challenged Barea to get better and though the second-year point guard looked solid against the Spurs, his coach was quick to put it in perspective.

“Just one game,” Johnson said Wednesday after practice. “We’ll see. He wasn’t very good in practice. He’s got to get better in practice and the games. When you’re an undrafted player and you’re trying to make the team and impress the coach, you’ve got to be consistent. We require that of all of our guys."

Setting up the preseason sked

I asked Avery Johnson today if he prefers scheduling back-to-backs in the preseason like the Chicago-Washington trip coming up. Johnson does, but also said to ask assistant GM Keith Grant about the eight-day break from the last preseason game to the regular-season opener Halloween Night at Cleveland.

So who comes down the stairs at the end of practice? Mr. Grant. So Keith, how about it? Keith, one of the nicest and sharpest guys around, proceeds to explain the process. Teams set up their own schedules – not the league – so there are a number of hoops to work around. Think non-conference scheduling in college football.

“It’s one of the hardest things I do,” Grant said. He also pointed out that 16 teams have six-day breaks, with at least two going nine days before opening up the season. Got any questions, Coach?

Stack at the 2?

The initiation of Devin Harris as the full-time starting point guard began in Tuesday night’s 88-67 victory over San Antonio in the preseason opener at American Airlines Center.

Did we also get a glimpse of his backcourt mate?

Jerry Stackhouse opened along with Harris, reuniting a pairing that’s rather used to playing together. They’ve done so often off the bench and the possibility exists, though it’s probably slight, that it might become habit on the first team.

“Right now Stack is going to get those minutes there,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Once we get Eddie Jones healthy, we will take a look at him there.”

Stress now. Jones and Devean George are out with injuries, and Trenton Hassell is still learning the system. Jason Terry could be the one or may be asked to fill a “Vinnie Johnson” role.

Asked about possibly being Harris’ starting partner, Stackhouse almost pulled a spit-take with his energy drink.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mark jives and stays alive

Mark and Kym made it to Week 4 of Dancing with the Stars. The pair did the “jive” on Monday and tonight the once again avoided the dreaded red light. The “highlight” of Mark and Kym learning they moved on was played on the AAC jumbotron seconds after airing on ABC and received a spirited ovation.

Love for Fin

Make no mistake, the Mavericks and Spurs are rivals. That doesn’t mean the people that inhabit both ends of the I-35 rivalry aren’t people. Or can’t be friends.

One aspect of San Antonio’s latest title touched more than a few who wear “Dallas” across their chests. The respect for teammate Michael Finley from within the Mavs organization hasn't waned.

“I was happy for him,” close friend Dirk Nowitzki said before Tuesday night’s preseason opener against San Antonio at American Airlines Center.“He deserves it more than anyone. He worked hard his whole career and has always been a great professional.”

Nowitzki’s feelings mirror those he had when buddy Steve Nash claimed his first MVP. The Big Three hoped to experience the ultimate together, but apart they’ve continued to succeed.

Check out more of what Jerry Stackhouse and Finley had to say in our preseason notebook on

How 'bout them Cowboys

Like most of North Texas, Avery Johnson was glued to the set last night for Cowboys-Bills. (He probably flipped over to Dancing with the Stars during commercials.)

“That was a pretty exciting game and the funny thing is you just had a feeling they were going to win it all along,” Johnson said. “I guess Owens said the guy [Nick Folk] kicked a 106-yarder.”

Johnson is good friends with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and made a prediction when the two had dinner last week.

“I kinda told him he was going to be 5-0, so I guess I’m right,” Johnson admitted.

So is there a lesson to learn in the Cowboy’s wild 25-24 comeback win?

“You just never give up,” Johnson preached. “Like I tell my guys all the times during our championship games with the Spurs, people talking about me hitting the shot [to win the title], but I had six turnovers in the first half.

“And Tony Romo had a lot of turnovers, so you just hang in there. I like to see teams that are mentally tough. I was more impressed with their win last night than I was with the other four.”

AJ quips: "Pop is average"

Avery Johnson’s goal in tonight’s “simulated game” against San Antonio is to get everybody who’s healthy some minutes. He said his plan for this preseason, which is always subject to change, is to get his main guys into about six or seven of the eight games.

In case anyone’s forgotten – how could they? – Johnson had this to say about tonight’s foe: “They’re the champions.” He also couldn’t help but poke a little fun at his former team.

“The coach is average,” Johnson quipped, “but the players are great.”

Expect San Antonio skipper Gregg Popovich to offer similar words of praise when the Spurs roll into American Airlines Center today.

Johnson was asked about the Spurs’ decision to retire his number. The ceremony is taking place Dec. 22 at the SBC Center.

“What a thrill,” he said. “What an honor. It’s pretty special. You often go into different arenas around the NBA and they’re not many guys whose jerseys are hanging in the rafters.”

Monday, October 8, 2007

More focused and mature

Gauging the team’s attitude has been a staple of Avery Johnson’s coaching style. He often calls it “body language” and what he’s seen so far from his Mavericks as training camp moves from the practice to the preseason stage is encouraging.

“They’re much more focused,” he said after Monday’s workout. “They’re more mature. They’re a little bit more physical, which is a nice surprise.”

The reason for the increased focus is simple.

“They know we’re the underdogs,” Johnson continued. “The Spurs are the team to beat and you have other teams that a lot of people are talking about.”

Johnson also rattled off Houston, Cleveland, Miami, Phoenix and most of the Western Conference as teams that should be in the hunt. The preseason begins Tuesday night against the Spurs at American Airlines Center.

Check out more in the today's Camp Notebook.

Mavs in Hi-Def

Get ready for select games available in high definition exclusively on HDNet within the Mavericks’ Texas viewing area, beginning Tuesday night at 7:30 in the preseason opener against San Antonio. This game is only available on HDNet.

The next HDNet offering is Chicago Bulls game on Oct. 23. HDNet's exclusive coverage of the regular-season schedule will also include up to 14 games. If you don't have an HD TV or HDNet, do yourself a favor and go get both.

Gana home sick, DJ to practice soon

DeSagana Diop came down sick Monday and didn’t practice. It’s not serious and he’s expected to play Tuesday night in the preseason opener against San Antonio at American Airlines Center.

The Mavs will be without Erick Dampier (shoulder), Eddie Jones (hamstring), Devean George (foot) and DJ Mbenga (knee) as they continue to rehab from injuries. Good news on Mbenga: he’s expected to practice Wednesday after being fitted for a new knee brace.

Dirk's leadership just fine

Any groans about the leadership abilities of Dirk Nowitzki aren’t heard, or even acknowledged, where it matters most.

“I haven’t been complaining, so I don’t know,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “The only ones that really matter are the ones in the locker room.”

Nowitzki has always led by example and no one ever worries about his attitude in the room.

“If he came in here and was a horrible guy, I’d wonder what he had for breakfast,” Stackhouse joked.

Needing more from Barea

Point guard Jose Barea heads into his second NBA season looking to find a foothold in the rotation. A progress report Monday wasn’t too encouraging.

“Not real happy with him right now,” Avery Johnson said after practice. “He’s not playing very well. He’s going to have to pick it up.”

Barea knows it. Areas of improvement range from ball-handling to decision-making to on-court communication.

“[Johnson] wants me to have a role this year more than last year and expects me to be ready, so I’ve got to be ready,” Barea said.

He doesn’t think Johnson is picking on him . . . well, no more than usual.

“He’s the same as always,” Barea added. “He’s tough on point guards and he’s tougher on me because he’s trying to make me better. I just have to take it and get better.”