Saturday, November 10, 2007

Six games and four starting fives

Avery Johnson used the fourth different starting lineup in six games tonight. This change was in the backcourt again, as Trenton Hassell opened with JJ Barea. Devin Harris left the team for the day to attend to a personal matter. Eddie Jones was in uniform, but didn’t start.

“We want to get to a point where we can get one lineup that we can depend on night in and night out,” Johnson said. “Obviously, injuries or in Devin’s situation, having to leave for family reasons, you can’t necessarily plan on that stuff. At some point we hope to have a string of games where can have the same lineup out there consistently.”

That may be Tuesday for Philadelphia’s visit to Dallas. Harris will be back and Jones may be ready to go then, too.

Dirk: Keeping it real ... long

Don’t you feel sorry for Dirk Nowitzki? This is why the shaggy MVP hasn’t been able to get a haircut.

“I wanted to cut it before we left,” he said, “but I had a lot of stuff going with my schedule, photo shoots, commercial shoots and all that going.”

Can you hear the tiny violins? I guess that’s also why he hasn’t picked up a razor. His look is very Pacific Northwest. That granola and Birkenstock combo never seems to go out of style up here, but that’s not why Dirk won’t visit Supercuts any time soon.

“I’m going to keep it long,” he said. “A couple guys said my short hair jinxes us every year. We got a couple of superstitious cats on our team. I’m not really superstitious, but I’m gonna roll with the team this year. I'll maybe cut off an inch, but keep it long.”

What a strange trip...

It’s been quite a trip for the Mavs so far…off the court. The odyssey began Thursday night after leaving Oakland. When we arrived in Portland in the wee hours of Friday morning, the two buses that normally are there to take the team and traveling party from the airport to the hotel weren’t.

Some sort of computer glitch with the bus company left us stranded on the plane. Plan B: Call taxis. A lot of them. After a considerable wait, it must have been at least half-an-hour for the first taxis to arrive, small groups of three or four people starting piling in cabs. Players went first, followed by the coaches, and then the rest of the staff and traveling party. It took a while to get everyone “home.”

The problems didn’t end once we got to the hotel. A homeless man snuck into the lobby at about 4:20 am Friday and snatched one of the equipment bags from an unlocked storage closet. He made off with the team’s warm-up tops. Luckily, he didn’t get the uniforms or workout gear. The team didn’t get replacements in time for the game, so they opted to wear long shirts over their jerseys.

Hopefully, we make it home tomorrow without a hitch.

Not ready to go deep

The roster isn’t completely healthy just yet, but it’s getting there. Once Erick Dampier and Eddie Jones get right, Devean George will be the only rotation piece on the mend.

If and when everyone is finally healthy, Avery Johnson will have 12 NBA-tested guys at his disposal. Can he work them all in?

“It won’t be difficult,” he said. “The good thing about it is instead of us always having to stretch guys to 38 and 42 minutes, we sold our guys on whatever amount of time, whether it’s 10, 20 or 30 or 40, just play hard.

“Some guys who played a lot longer last year, we’re hoping they can play a little bit less this year and play harder. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Johnson would like to get the minutes down for some of his heavy lifters. Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 35 minutes, Jason Terry 33, Gana Diop 30 and Jerry Stackhouse 27.

“We’re not the deepest team yet,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be a deep team when Dirk doesn’t have to play 38 minutes. We’re going to be a deep team when I can get 26 minutes out of Jet Terry, 26 minutes out of Devin [Harris], Stack can play 18-20 minutes.

“Then we’ll think about being a deep team and still being effective. And when I can split the time between Juwan [Howard] and Damp and Diop, and they can all go out there and play well. That’s when we’ll be a deep team, but we’re not a deep team yet.”

No track meet here

Avery Johnson was asked if the Mavs are ready for a track meet tonight after putting up 120 points at Golden State.

“We’ve just come out of one so at least we know we can run a little bit,” he said. “We want to play this game a little bit more at our pace. We came into that last game with the mind set that we wanted to out-run a running team and score as many points as we could.

“I don’t know if that’s our pace every night. We have a certain pace we like to play and it’s not fast and it’s not slow.”

So what tempo does the General prefer?

“Our ideal game is to keep our opponents in the high 80s if we can, which is a hard thing to do in our league, and try to win the rebound game and for us to get in the 100s,” he said.

Jones and Damp update

Eddie Jones could play tonight against Portland depending on how his sore right leg feels before the game. The injury, suffered Monday in the win over Houston, is above the ankle and initially had Jones worried.

“When it happened, it felt boney,” he said after shootaround at the Rose Garden. “I was a little afraid.”

Jones had an MRI that came back negative. “Immediately I felt better,” he said. He has experienced swelling after practicing this week, but it’s subsided lately. The test for tonight will be if he’s able to move from side-to-side.

“If the lateral movement is there, I’m playing,” Jones said.

Erick Dampier is also progressing nicely, with Avery Johnson hinting the center may be back soon.

“It’s a possibility,” Johnson said. “We definitely have a timeframe.”

Johnson wasn’t about to share it, but Dampier is on the right track.

“Damp is good,” Johnson said. “He had a good practice yesterday. He was trying to send me a message and I heard it loud and clear. We want him stronger. We need Damp to be strong.”

Friday, November 9, 2007

Offense isn’t all about Nowitzki

Is it conceivable for Dirk Nowitzki not to lead the Mavericks in scoring this season? The reigning MVP has done so for the last seven years.

Of course, it’s still early and drawing conclusions after just five games is just plain silly. Still, Nowitzki’s 21.6 scoring average going into Saturday’s matchup with the Trail Blazers is third on the team behind Josh Howard‘s 24.0 and Jason Terry’s 23.0.

It may be fair to assume that Nowitzki, even if he ends up the team’s scorer leader, won’t lap the field. Offensive balance is what the Mavs are searching for and what they may be finding.

“Offensively, we have to have consistently in playoffs for us to win like we should,” Avery Johnson said Friday.

Nowitzki has led the team in scoring just once in five games. In the other four games, Terry has led twice, Howard once and those two tied for game-high honors in Thursday’s 120-115 win at Golden State.

Nowitzki, Terry, Howard and Devin Harris each scored between 21-24 points against the Warriors. Eight have hit double figures at least once this season.

Jerry Stackhouse and Eddie Jones, currently out with a sore right leg, are proven scorers. Brandon Bass, though still raw, has a nose for the rim and isn’t afraid to challenge defenders. Gana Diop’s improved positioning is starting to pay dividends around the bucket.

Nowitzki is always going to draw attention. How he attacks it is the key.

“If every playoff series that is played, they’re going to play three guys on Dirk, we’ve got to make them pay,” Johnson said. “And then if Dirk gets single coverage, well he’s got to punish the defense and sometimes with double coverage he has to punish the defense.”

Though he looked uncomfortable at times against Golden State’s scrappy zone defense, Nowitzki didn’t hold the ball too long. The Mavs shot 50 percent and had 25 assists on 42 baskets.

“We really worked on zone offense,” Nowitzki said. “Last year in the playoffs we weren’t fluid. We’re really moving the ball well.”

Johnson counted six or seven possessions where the ball moved at least seven and eight times against Golden State. He illustrated the importance of ball movement before practice at the Rose Garden.

“Forget the playoffs,” he said, “we didn’t get that in the latter part of the season, so that’s why I really wanted to show the team this morning what we need consistently. We won’t have to rely on Dirk’s 36. And if he doesn’t get 36, and he has a night where he goes 6 for 15, we can still win.”

A heartbeat away

A giant Greg Oden jersey with “#1” on the back hangs on the outside of the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, fans won’t get to see it on Oden this season. The top pick and potential franchise savior is sitting out the year after undergoing knee surgery.

“What happens in our business is all 30 teams are a heartbeat away from things going really south,” Avery Johnson said. “That’s why we all try to take it day-by-day because one second one day can change your whole franchise, and that’s what happened here.

“They were really excited about Oden. He’s probably going to be a terrific pro, just not this year. A lot of enthusiasm came back about basketball because of his draft. He’s a good young man. He obviously had a nice run at Ohio State, a lot of optimism, a lot of potential, so again it’s a tough spot to be in.”

Johnson has been impressed with the talented young roster the Blazers have put together always and he’s always complimented the job done by Portland coach Nate McMillan. The Blazers are off to a slow start without the 7-footer from Ohio State.

“I won 18 games my rookie year, so I don’t feel sorry for anybody,” Jerry Stackhouse said with a laugh. “At the same time, you never want anyone to get hurt.”

Not quite payback

Brandon Bass spent the last two years with the Hornets, so he had no personal score to settle with Golden State. That didn’t matter. He played like he something to prove, and with 10 points and 12 rebounds, he made his point.

“I’d been thinking about that game for a long time,” Bass said. “When I saw it on the schedule, I was looking forward to this game. I know I was brought here to bring something different to this team. Last year we struggled with this team and I wanted to be the difference-maker if I could.”

The 22-year-old power forward dazzled throughout training camp and put up numbers during the preseason. Now he’s doing it in games that count, averaging 9.3 points and 6.3 boards in 24 minutes per game off the bench.

“It really feels good to contribute and be part of the team,” he said.

Above the Rim: Exclusive Mavs catalogue

The Dallas Mavericks have released Above the Rim, an exclusive catalogue filled with one-of-a-kind Mavs experiences and merchandise. All Mavs season ticket holders will receive a free catalogue and have the opportunity to purchase these limited items starting this month.

“It goes beyond the foam fingers, t-shirts, hats and face paint that we all love and touches the imagination of every fan, myself included,” Mark Cuban said. “We’re always looking for new ways for fans to show their Mavericks pride, and this book does just that.”

Above the Rim features unique items such as a customized 2008 Mavericks Continental GT from Bentley Motors, a paradise getaway with Devin Harris, and the opportunity to be Owner for a Day.

The catalogue will also be available for purchase for $5 at the American Airlines Center Fan Shops and the Ultimate Fan Shop in NorthPark Center.

Mavs finally snag win at Golden State

OAKLAND – Devin Harris picked himself off the floor and had a message to deliver to Matt Barnes. The face off led to double technicals. Maybe there is a rivalry after all.

Forget the records. Don’t focus on the injuries or who wasn’t in uniform. The Mavericks came to town Thursday and that’s all the Warriors needed to see.

Winless coming into the night, Golden State stepped back six months in time and brought back that playoff mojo. The crowd fed off their springtime memories. “We Believe” t-shirts were back in fashion.

Unlike those games of days gone by, the Mavs found a way to slip out of Oracle Arena tasting victory. No one in Dallas locker room treated the 120-115 outcome like postseason mouthwash – history can’t be rewritten – but there was level of satisfaction in leaving Oakland with a win for the first time since Jan. 25, 2006.

“It’s very important knowing they had beat us the last four or five times to get this monkey off our backs,” Jason Terry said.

It was anything but easy. The game went down to the final possession and it took Baron Davis coming up short on a wide-open 3-pointer for the Mavs to snap a string of six consecutive losses at Oracle that included three in the first round last season. Dallas improved to 4-1 and ends its quick two-game West Coast trip Saturday at Portland.

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.”

Dirk's trash can toss

Walking back to the locker room at halftime of Game 6 here last season, Dirk Nowitzki lost it. And a trash can got lost into one of the walls at Oracle. He tossed the unsuspecting receptacle and it left quite a hole. Funny, Dirk or the Mavs never saw a bill.

“Stuff happens,” he said. “I never heard anything from them, so I guess they let me off the hook. They might now have seen who it was.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have said that.

Four horsemen are game-time

The game-time list is pretty lengthy for tonight’s Golden State matchup. Decisions have yet to be officially made on Josh Howard, Eddie Jones, Brandon Bass and Devin Harris, but all four just got off the court here at Oracle Arena without any problems.

“Everybody for the most part went through shootaround and we’ll see how they feel come game time,” Avery Johnson said.

Of the group, Harris and Bass are the most likely to play. Both went through practice yesterday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Golden State trip can't change past

Asked in the locker room right after the Mavericks beat Houston if he’s looking forward to a “rematch” with Golden State, Jerry Stackhouse nearly burned a hole through the eager TV reporter.

“I don’t look forward to nothing,” he bristled. “It’s the fourth game of the season.”

The first reaction is usually a pretty good reaction, but it also doesn’t leave time for reflection. Stackhouse and the rest of the Mavs don’t dismiss the obvious storylines associated with this week’s return to the Bay Area.

The Warriors knocked Dallas out of the playoff last season, a first-round upset as historic as any in NBA history. The streaking eighth seeds sent the 67-win Western Conference champs home for the summer after six shocking games.

No one is denying what took place six months ago.

“They were the Colorado Rockies,” Stackhouse said. “They got on a roll at the end of the season and won a bunch of games to get in the playoffs, and probably beat some teams they shouldn’t have beat.

“It eventually caught up with them in the Big Dance. But a hot team is a hot team, and you’ve got to understand that. Regardless of conventional or unconventional [style], they have NBA players. Any given night. In our case, four nights.”

Injury updates from practice

The walking wounded made some progress today at practice before leaving for the West Coast. Brandon Bass (ankle) and Devin Harris (thigh) went through the full practice and are optimistic for tomorrow night’s Golden State affair.

Josh Howard (ankle) and Eddie Jones (leg) went through a limited practice. We’ll know more tomorrow morning at shootaround, but both will give it their best shot. Avery Johnson did say this about Howard: “He wasn’t 100 percent, but we’ll take Josh at any percent.”

Erick Dampier (shoulder) also went through a scaled-back workout after his first full-contact practice yesterday.

“I feel fine,” he said. “No problems yet. Hopefully, there’s no soreness or pain and we’ll see how it goes over the next week.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Looking ahead to G-State after beating H-town

Four games down and look who’s coming down the pike…the Golden State Warriors. Focus, naturally, shifted today to the team that knocked the Mavericks out of the playoffs last season.

“We all still have a bitter taste in our mouths, knowing we had a great season last year and they ended our season pretty hard,” Dirk Nowitzki said after practice. “But we understand that whatever we do now it doesn’t take back what happened in May.”

The Mavs (3-1) and Warriors aren’t the teams they were just six months ago. Golden State, which began the day 0-3, is without suspended guard Stephen Jackson and traded away Jason Richardson.

Dallas knows it can’t erase the past. Its focus is on improving with each game, and Monday’s 107-98 victory over Houston at American Airlines Center offers a prime example of progress.

The Mavs knocked off a fellow Western Conference contender without starting point guard Devin Harris and reserve big man Brandon Bass, and with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard battling foul trouble.

Nowitzki and Howard, despite finishing with five fouls each, still combined for 40 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse scored 47 of the team’s 50 bench points. Gana Diop (10 points and 13 boards) had the team’s first double-double of the season.

The contributors didn’t stop there. Trenton Hassell and Eddie Jones were instrumental in Tracy McGrady missing 19 of 31 shots. While not as spectacular as his previous two showings, JJ Barea logged 18 ½ key minutes at point guard. Newly-signed Juwan Howard (12 ½ minutes) helped Diop and Nowitzki hold Yao Ming to just 12 shots.

Mavs coach Avery Johnson noted the team effort, especially with what’s left of the team.

“When those guys play well, we’re an awfully tough team to beat because this is not a one-man band with Dirk,” he said. “We have a team. When our team is functioning well; you saw bits and pieces last night without Devin and Bass. We think we have a chance to be good, but there’s a lot of the season left.”

Dampier practices, Howard does not

Erick Dampier underwent his first full-contact practice of the season Tuesday. Avery Johnson was pleased with Dampier’s effort, noting the center ran well. There’s no timetable yet on Dampier’s return. Josh Howard turned his right ankle late in the Houston game and only rode the stationary bike during practice.

Eddie Jones came out of the Rockets game with a sore right leg. Howard, Jones and Brandon Bass (left ankle sprain) are officially listed as day-to-day. Their availability against Golden State likely won’t be determined until Thursday.

Bob Ortegel and Mark Followill sign extensions

The Mavericks announced today they have signed broadcasters Bob Ortegel and Mark Followill to contract extensions.

“I am very excited for Bob and Mark,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. “We hope they both will continue to call our games for years to come.”

Ortegel entered his 20th season as a Mavs analyst, splitting his time this year with the television and radio broadcasts. Overall, he is in his 27th season as a TV analyst, having also worked games for ESPN, ABC and Raycom.

Followill began his third season as the TV play-by-play voice and his seventh overall with the team. Prior to his move to television, he served as the Mavs radio play-by-play voice on ESPN 103.3 FM for four seasons.

In addition, Chuck Cooperstein started his third season as the radio play-by-play voice of the Mavs on ESPN 103.3 FM. He has been a regular on the Dallas/Fort Worth sports scene since 1984 and has been an anchor on ESPN 103.3 FM since the station’s inception in 2001.

got milk? Avery and Josh sure do

Mavericks coach Avery Johnson and All-Star forward Josh Howard are the latest celebrities to join the Body By Milk National Milk Mustache campaign. The spots, long associated with the popular “got milk?” slogan, kicked off today with an ad unveiling on the American Airlines Center practice court.

“Hopefully, it can inspire kids all over the world to drink more milk and be more health conscious,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Howard are the latest in the long line of personalities sporting the iconic ’stache, including David Beckham, Beyonce Knowles, Carrie Underwood, Alex Rodriguez and Marvin Harrison. More than 250 celebrities/athletes have been featured since the campaign started in 1996.

Johnson is the first NBA coach to be featured in the National Milk Mustache “got milk?” campaign since Pat Riley appeared with Joe Torre and Jeff Fisher in 2000. Johnson and Howard are the first coach/player combo to be featured in a “got milk?” ad together.

Other NBA players that have been a part of the National Milk Mustache “got milk?” campaign include Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett and Patrick Ewing.

The ad featuring Johnson, standing on a milk crate, and Howard hits newsstands this month in Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine and Stack.

The ad reads: “Coaching my team to the top was a tall order. Good thing milk was my #1 pick. Some studies suggest the protein helps build muscle, plus teens who choose it instead of sugary drinks tend to be leaner. Like I tell my guys: If you want to keep breaking records, keep hitting the glass.”

Fans and milk drinkers across America can see the Johnson and Howard ad and watch behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot at

Happy Birthday to Stack

As far as birthday gifts go, Jerry Stackhouse would rather give this one back. Rookie forward Nick Fazekas serenaded Stack with “Happy Birthday to You” on Monday, his 33rd b-day.

“It was terrible,” Stack said. “He was off-key. He called me Jerry. He almost should be getting a fine for that.”

Jet takes off in win over Rockets

He’s a sixth man in name only. He’s also known as Jet.

Whatever you call him or whatever he does, it’s clear that Jason Terry is doing something right. Make that a lot of things.

“Jet is playing some really good basketball for us,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “He just had that look in his eyes and his shot looked really good. We are surprised when he misses. Kind of spoiled these days.”

Terry piloted the second-half flight that lifted the Mavericks past Houston 107-98 Monday night before 20,389 fans at American Airlines Center. The two Texas heavyweights locked horns in a matchup some wanted to call a measuring stick. Others dubbed it a showdown.

It was a hard-fought regular-season game between a pair of teams that should be in the middle of the Western Conference scrum six months from now. The Rockets suffered their first loss, leaving them tied with Dallas in the Southwest Division at 3-1.

“This was a key win,” said Terry, averaging 22.8 points and shooting 60 percent. “We are off to a good start. They really put it to us in that early November game last year. We are one up on them now, but we can’t get too excited because we have to go down at the end of the month. They are a good team and a team to be reckoned with in this division.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

Dampier cleared for full practice

Erick Dampier is supposed to have his first full contact practice tomorrow. He’s been cleared by the team doctors to test his surgically repaired left shoulder.

Avery Johnson didn’t put a timetable on his return. In the past, though, Johnson has required players coming back from injury to participate in several full practices without any setbacks before suiting up for a game.

“His body will tell us,” Johnson said of Dampier’s return. “We’ll go from there. The main thing is we don’t want to rush him back.”

Attacking Yao Ming

Not having Brandon Bass and Erick Dampier doesn’t help when it comes to guarding Yao Ming. Though he’s been here for only two games, expect Juwan Howard to take on a bigger role. Howard, at least, knows Yao well. They were teammates the last three seasons in Houston.

There’s another way to attack Yao – Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and countless drives to the basket.

“I’d like for us to make him play some defense,” Johnson said.

Brandon Bass and Devin Harris out

Devin Harris and Brandon Bass (sprained left ankle) are out tonight. Bass landed awkwardly making a block in the fourth quarter, but when Avery Johnson summoned him off the bench later, Bass was back in.

“I came back in because Coach called my name,” Bass said moments ago. “I wasn’t going to sit down.”

Bass had trouble walking the last couple days, but reported progress. X-rays came back negative and he has an MRI scheduled tomorrow. He hopes to return Thursday at Golden State.

“If he can’t go, then he can’t go,” Johnson said, emphasizing the extent of the injury. “He’s pretty tough.”

Measuring stick tonight?

The Rockets come in as one of the three unbeatens in the Southwest Division, which is living up to its billing as the toughest division in basketball. Houston is also a trendy pick to contend for the title owned by another Southwest foe, those Spurs of San Antonio.

“Again, it’s a tough division that we’re in,” Avery Johnson said. “The state of Texas is tough and it’s been that way for a while.”

So is tonight’s game a measuring stick?

“We have measuring sticks of our own,” Avery Johnson said. “Not necessarily playing against other teams. We have certain criteria we try to meet every game no matter who we’re playing against.

“I think more of the hype comes from the outside. That’s the way it should be because you guys [the media] have a job to do and that’s part of it.”

Johnson also quickly put it all in perspective.

“No matter what happens tonight we hope to get on the plane Wednesday and go play another game on the road Thursday,” he said.

Why go with JJ?

So why did Avery Johnson go with JJ Barea instead of Jason Terry in the starting lineup Saturday night? The General explains it in his own words.

“It’s kind of like we’re in a chemistry lab,” Johnson said. “You get a chance to try a few things in the last game. We didn’t expect Devin Harris to miss that game, but he did and now here comes Barea. The easiest thing to do would have been to start JT.

“But, I was just lying around that day I was just thinking, ‘What about if we start JJ?’ We don’t have anything to lose, right? He came out and played well offensively and not so good defensively.

“Again that’s what it’s all about, about being in the lab and seeing what combinations work well together. Right now Eddie Jones plays well with certain guys, [Trenton] Hassell plays well with certain guys, so that’s what it’s all about right now.”

Toys for Tots for the Holiday Season

The Dallas-Fort Worth UPS Stores and the Dallas Mavericks are teaming up with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundations to bring smiles to the faces of local children this holiday season. Now through December 21, The UPS Store will offer customers the opportunity to purchase Toys for Tots donation cards for $1 each, with proceeds benefiting the Toys for Tots campaigns in communities where the funds are raised.

Additionally, Mavs Fans are encouraged to bring a cash donation with them to several home games. Click here for the list of games.

Devin Harris game-time decision

Devin Harris (left thigh contusion) may return to the lineup tonight against the Rockets. Though he reported no setbacks after this morning’s shootaround at AAC, he’ll officially be listed as a game-time decision.

“We’re going to find out tonight,” Avery Johnson said this morning. “We’re still in a holding pattern right now.”

If he’s not able to go, JJ Barea is more than ready to fill in. The Puerto Rican AI is coming off Saturday’s career night – 25 points and five assists – in the Sacramento blowout.

Harris hurt his thigh taking a charge Friday from Hawks guard Josh Smith.

Mavs-Rockets preview

Game #4
Houston Rockets (3-0) at Dallas Mavericks (2-1)
American Airlines Center • 7:30 pm (CT)
NBATV • ESPN 103.3 FM • KFLC 1270 AM (Spanish)

F Dirk Nowitzki (7-0, 245)
F Josh Howard (6-7, 210)
C Gana Diop (7-0, 280)
G Eddie Jones (6-6, 200)
G Devin Harris (6-3, 185)

F Shane Battier (6-8, 220)
F Chuck Hayes (6-6, 238)
C Yao Ming (7-6, 310)
G Tracy McGrady (6-8, 233)
G Rafer Alston (6-2, 175)

Dallas: Erick Dampier (right shoulder surgery) and Devean George (left foot stress reaction) are out. Harris (left thigh contusion) is day-to-day.
Houston: None listed.

Last game: 123-102 win over Sacramento
Next game: at Golden State, Thursday, 9:30 pm (TNT)
All-time series: Rockets lead 73-59

Connections: Dallas assistant Mario Elie won two titles with Houston (1994 & ’95) … Mavs forward Juwan Howard played for the Rockets the last three seasons … Mavs rookie Nick Fazekas and Houston guard Kirk Snyder were teammates for one season at Nevada … Jones and Battier were teammates in Memphis … Mavs coach Avery Johnson played for the Rockets and makes his offseason home in The Woodlands.

Scouting the Rockets: Off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1996-97 … McGrady has games of 47 points (Utah) and 30 (Lakers) this season … Erased first-quarter deficits of 11 points at the Lakers and 12 at Utah. Largest comeback win last season was 12 on three occasions … Yao is averaging 19 ppg and 10.3 rpg.

Observations: These I-45 rivals know each other well, having played 132 times in the regular season. Houston leads the series 73-59 … Dallas holds a 10-2 edge in games at American Airlines Center … Perhaps the best game in recent memory was the epic Nowitzki-McGrady duel on Dec. 2, 2004. Nowitzki scored 53 to T-Mac’s 48 in Dallas’ 113-106 overtime win … The Mavs never trailed in their two wins – at Cleveland and Sacramento. Dallas accomplished that feat 12 times last season … Dallas scored 73 first-half points against the Kings. The Mavs’ high last season was 66 points … JJ Barea was forced into action when Dallas lost Harris in the first half at Atlanta. He responded with 14 points (5-6 FGs, 4-4 FTs) in just 9 minutes before recording a career-high 25 points against Sacramento in his second career start … It didn’t take long for Josh Howard to announce his return from a two-game suspension. He registered a team-high 27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and two blocked shots in 33 minutes against the Kings.

Rockets: Third best in Texas?

That’s what the Houston skipper thinks of his team. To read what else Rick Adelman has to say, check out “Rockets looking to surpass other Texas teams” written by my good buddy Damien Pierce over at

Here’s a snippet: Since arriving in Houston, Rockets coach Rick Adelman has been asked about a dozen times how his team stacks up against Texas’ other two NBA franchises. He's always had the same answer.

“Right now, we’re the third best team in Texas,” Adelman said. “We’re trying to move up with those guys.”

They’ll get an early chance to get a jump on the state championship race. The Rockets will begin a two-game swing against Texas’ other two franchises Monday night when they visit the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.