Saturday, March 22, 2008

Time to push, kick or hug?

Professional athletes are human, too. That’s not a news flash, even though their human side is sometimes taken for granted.

“Everybody has tough games from time to time, but the more you can encourage and try to pump guys up – we need it,” Jerry Stackhouse said Saturday afternoon. “It may not seem like it at 7:30 with some of the things that happen on the basketball court, but we’re human and sometimes we need a push and sometimes we need a kick and sometimes we need hug just like everybody else.”

These are push/kick/hug times for the Mavericks, but not necessarily desperate times. They realize the stakes and standings involved, especially with San Antonio coming up Easter Sunday at American Airlines Center, and relish the opportunity.

Backing down from a challenge isn’t in the vocabulary of Avery Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the rest of a team fighting for its playoff life. The Mavs fully expect to be in the postseason tournament for the eighth consecutive season despite sitting seventh in the Western Conference.

That’s not to say disappointment and frustration are emotions absent from the scene. The record against winning teams with Kidd in town (0-7) has been repeated constantly, including heartbreaking losses to the Lakers and Celtics to open this homestand.

“It’s a big game Sunday,” Nowitzki said coming off a 22-point, 19-rebound effort in the 94-90 Boston loss. “That’s all you can say. We’ve got to bring it again and it’s not the time to let the frustration get the best of you. If you’re not frustrated right now then obviously you don’t care, so it’s good to be frustrated. Hopefully, we’ll take the anger out on Sunday.”

Read the rest of this story with a Spurs preview at

Title still goes through San Antonio

There’s panic in Dallas with the Mavs sitting seventh in the Western Conference. What does that mean in San Antonio with the Spurs sixth? Well, the title still goes through the Alamo City.

“They’re holding the title right now until somebody takes it from them,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “No matter what sputtering they do during the course of the regular season, it’s just one team we look at that’s going to be there.

“I feel the same way about the Phoenix Suns. I just do. No matter what’s happening or what’s going on right now, I just feel when you’ve got Steve Nash and a great player like Shaquille O’Neal in the middle, at some point they’re going to hit a stride I just hope it’s not in the postseason.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Charles Barkley on the Mavs

Charles Barkley always has something to say. That’s one of the big reasons we love TNT. Here are some of the Chuckster’s remarks from last night:

On the Mavericks needing a playing identity: “I think the Mavs just haven’t figured out how to play, they only have one way to play. They have to figure out a way to become the Phoenix Suns, they need to outscore people…They are not going to have a good half-court team, they’ve got to run and gun and let Jason Kidd make (Brandon) Bass and (Erick) Dampier better. It’s no secret, they have to speed up the game, they can only play one way.”

On Jason Kidd: “Jason Kidd is the probably the best point guard in the NBA as far as making guys better. He’s the perfect guy and he makes everyone around him better.”

On Popeye Jones: “I hate that guy Popeye Jones, he kicked my ass all the time. I could not figure that guy out. He’s like Reggie Miller, he doesn’t have any problem hearing anything.”

On a locker room confrontation between Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson: “The little dust up between Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson, confrontation is a part of sports. As long as you keep it in the locker room it can bring the team together. I think it’s going to help Dallas. Mark Cuban is my favorite owner and Avery’s got to take some criticism, that’s part of it. Now they’ve got to circle the wagons, and say, ‘you know what, this is our team and we’ve got tot stick together’ because a lot of people are trying to pull them apart.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Notables from 94-90 loss vs. Celtics

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Boston ended the game on a 7-2 run (over the last 31.7 seconds of regulation).

• For the first time since 1993-94, the Celtics have swept a season series with the Mavericks. The Mavericks lost 2 games in Jan., 1994. Tonight’s loss is Dallas first at home to Boston since 3/18/00 (99-104). The Mavericks had won 7 straight games in Dallas.
• Dirk Nowitzki recorded his second 19+ rebound effort of the season. With a season-high 19 rebounds and 22 points, he had his 23rd double-double of the season.
• The Mavericks are now 16-6 when both Nowitzki and Josh Howard (game-high 24 points) score 20+ points each.
• Boston’s Paul Pierce came down with a season-high 13 rebounds (10 DR). His previous high was 12 @ IND (2/12/08).
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,582 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 270 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 307 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.

Boston nips the Mavs again

The Mavericks had swallowed their fill of disappointment since Jason Kidd’s resurrection in Big D. A six-pack of it, to be precise, before Thursday night, and it left them thirsty.

They still haven’t tasted anything better than “almost.” The NBA-leading Boston Celtics made it an unlucky seven by finishing strong for an intensely-contested 94-90 victory before 20,582 fans at American Airlines Center.

The Mavs (44-25) still haven’t knocked off a team with a winning record in seven tries under Kidd’s direction. Dallas almost pulled out wins against fellow contenders San Antonio, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers (twice) only to fall short in the end. New team, same verse.

“We’re close,” Avery Johnson said. “We’re not being rewarded. We’re getting closer. We have to stay positive.”

The Celtics (55-13) own the NBA’s best record and have dominated the Western Conference along the way, including impressive wins at San Antonio and Houston on their current trip before finishing off the rare Texas Triangle sweep in Dallas.

Knocking off a team with that momentum and at full strength – Ray Allen returned to the lineup – would have served as a confidence boost with the regular season down to 13 precious games. The Mavs remain seventh in the playoff race and face only Western Conference foes from here on out, starting with San Antonio’s visit on Sunday.

“I understand the sense of urgency,” Johnson said. “We all know where we are.”

Dirk Nowitzki (22 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks) played with a relentless energy, even with things weren’t going his way. He attacked the basket consistently and battled MVP candidate Kevin Garnett (20 points and 13 boards) at the other end.

“He was making strong moves,” Johnson said of Nowitzki. “Nineteen rebounds, 22 points and two and three guys hanging all over him pretty much the whole game. Dirk is a warrior.”

Read the rest of this game story at

Ray Allen to start

Ray Allen is good to go tonight, starting at shooting guard for the C’s. He missed the previous three games with a jammed left ankle.

Allen makes Boston that much more dangerous. The Mavs certainly aren’t underestimating the Eastern Conference leaders.

“No matter how bad people say the East is, they came out West and they’ve beat quality teams on the road,” Jason Kidd said. “They’ve had a successful trip so far here in Texas and they’re for real.”

Needing to play angry

The Mavs don’t want a repeat of the first half against the Lakers. So what led to the lackluster start?

“We didn’t get enough ball movement, we didn’t attack the basket enough, the same old stuff. SOS,” Avery Johnson said. “Defensively, we weren’t physical enough, we didn’t rebound, we got out-hustled and we had a couple breakdowns that are all correctable.”

That type of performance should put anyone associated with the Mavs in a bad mood. Can they funnel that anger into a positive?

“I would sure hope so,” Johnson said. “I love anger, especially when it’s controlled. That’s what I loved about Stackhouse’s situation in that home game.”

Jerry Stackhouse avoided a possible confrontation with Indiana’s Danny Granger by keeping his composure and walking away from a potential fight. Stackhouse was mad, but he didn’t lose his head.

The same should hold true about the team.

“We should be really angry about what happened in the last game, but it should be the right type of anger, so we’ll see what happens in the game tonight,” Johnson said.

Close friends man the sideline

The two opposing coaches tonight are also close friends. It’s been that way for a long time for Avery Johnson and Doc Rivers.

“We’ve got a close friendship, always did from the time we played together in San Antonio,” Johnson said. “We’ve kept in touch. We talk a lot about the craft of coaching. I would say he’s obviously one of my closer friends. We compete in a lot of ways.”

Rivers was Johnson’s backup at point guard in the mid-1990s. The Boston skipper said that being in separate conferences puts less strain on the friendship, adding sometimes they go weeks without talking and other times they may chat five straight days.

The Celtics were completely rebuilt during the offseason, with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen coming aboard. Rivers likes the Jason Kidd pickup and the Mavs’ other recent changes.

“The additions they made a terrific, but I think doing it this time of year is difficult,” Rivers said.

Making it doubly difficult is Kidd being handed the keys to the offense. Rivers pointed out that while Devin Harris was a “one-man fastbreak,” Kidd’s influence is more widespread.

“Jason makes them a fastbreak team,” Rivers said. “In some ways that’s more dangerous.”

Cassell considered the Mavs ... kinda

Sam Cassell informs us that had he not signed with Boston, he would have landed in Big D.

“If I wasn’t coming here,” Cassell said, decked out in Celtics gear for the today’s shootaround, “I was going to Dallas.”

Boston Globe beat man Marc J. Spears quickly chimed in: Wasn’t Phoenix also on the list? Cassell quickly changed his tune, admitting the Suns were in the mix, along with a “couple of places.”

Always a media favorite, it seems Cassell was just playing along for the Dallas types. Count on Sam I Am doing the same act in each NBA city that was after his services.

But when it came to choosing Boston, Cassell did say: “It was an easy decision.”

The Mavs did fill their backup point guard need with Tyronn Lue.

Ray Allen looking good for tonight

The chances of Ray Allen playing tonight are 75 percent in the estimation of Celtics coach Doc Rivers. The sharpshooter was participating in today’s shootaround at American Airlines Center.

Rivers and Allen both stressed that he won’t go unless he’s fully recovered. Allen has missed the last three games with a jammed left ankle.

“I’m not going to play a guy unless he’s 100 percent,” Rivers said.

Allen said: “There’s no rush. You don’t have to rush.”

The NBA-leading Celtics have done pretty well without Allen, winning in San Antonio and Houston this week. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce aren’t the only ones making up the difference.

“You have to pick up the slack when one of your guys is down,” Allen said. “Nobody is trying to do too much.”

Role players such as centers Leon Powe and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, guard Eddie House and forward James Posey have stepped up. Boston recently added veterans P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell, who’s already showed off his big, um, shot-making ability with that late 3-pointer to beat the Spurs.

“We’re just a bunch of guys trying to do the smart thing, play together and play hard every night,” Rivers said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Not at best against West

The Mavs owned the best record against the Western Conference before the Jason Kidd trade at 23-7. They’re 3-6 since, with each loss coming against a playoff contender. Dallas is 6-0 against Kidd’s former conference.

“It’s kind of changed a little bit,” Avery Johnson admitted. “We were really good against the West. We were struggling against the East, but I think we had the best Western Conference record.

“That’s changed now and that’s something we’ve got to address, because down the stretch we’re going to be playing a lot of teams from the West. Our Eastern Conference teams pretty much are over now.”

The Celtics close out the East schedule. The Mavs are 18-11 against that circuit. The last 13 games are against the West.

The General clears the air

Two questions about the Lakers game from the assembled media today caught Avery Johnson’s attention … in the wrong way. I’m paraphrasing the questions and, no, they didn’t come from me.

How can the team start out that slow? “It happens in the NBA. Just watch 82 games. All right. Whether it’s late in the season, early in the season, teams get off to slow starts. When you’ve been doing it for 20 years like I have, it happens. Now if it consistently happens, then that’s a different story.”

The Lakers said it was a big game and you said it was like Minnesota. Is there something to that? “You’ve taken that totally out of context.”

Johnson continued: “We thought it was a big game. We think every game is a big game. I think you’ve heard me say that. Every game is a big game. What we’re saying is, whether we play Minnesota or the Lakers or whomever we’re playing, at this stage of the season they all are big.”

Where does it stand with Kidd?

Jason Kidd sat out the final 35 seconds of the loss at San Antonio three weeks ago. He sat for more of the second half than he played in Tuesday night’s 102-100 setback to the Lakers.

For all the signs that’s he’s picking it up –the slick passes and heady play – do assimilation issues remain? Or is Kidd entitled to the bad games that all players succumb to at one time or another?

There’s no questioning the facts from the Mavericks’ latest “statement” game. Kidd scored just one point, missed all three of his shots and dished out just seven assists. He sat from midway through the third quarter to midway through the fourth, and played just 11 ½ minutes in the second half.

The rally from a 25-point deficit was made largely without the team’s new floor general. The General addressed that Wednesday as the Mavs prepared to host Boston at American Airlines Center on Thursday night.

“He just didn’t have his best night,” Avery Johnson said. “There aren’t many nights where he’s just going to get one point and not get double-figure assists. For us to be really good, we’re going to need him to score some, get those assists and play tough defense. But last night wasn’t one of his better nights. We were searching.”

Read on and get a preview of the Celtics in today’s notebook at

Sweeping the Texas Triangle

The Milwaukee Bucks – yes, the Bucks – are the last team to sweep an uninterrupted three-game trip trough Texas, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Bucks did it in 1999-2000. San Antonio was 53-29 that season, Houston 34-48 and Dallas 40-42.

Why is this noteworthy? Well, the Celtics are two-thirds of the way through a perfect Texas Triangle romp. Boston beat San Antonio (93-91) and Houston (94-74) on a back-to-back earlier this week.

“Not many teams really come through Texas and get off to a 2-0 start,” Avery Johnson said. “Hopefully, we’ll play a good game and end their little winning streak here in Texas.”

A sweep by the Celtics would be considerably more impressive than Milwaukee’s. The Mavs, Spurs and Rockets are all at least 20 games over .500.

Mavs gather for horror film

Avery Johnson promised last night that his team would spend today watching film from the 102-100 setback to the Lakers. “Horror movie,” he called it then. That’s exactly what they watched this morning.

“The men didn’t like what they saw on it, especially for the first 30 minutes or so of the game,” Johnson said. “We saw some good, but we saw a lot of bad and a lot of correctable errors.”

The heavy lifters were excused from the gym after the film session, while the low-minute reserves went through an actual practice. With less than four weeks left in the regular season, keeping the team fresh has been a point of emphasis for Johnson.

“We had a lengthy film session with our starters and then we got them out of here,” he said. “We had to get some work in with some of our guys that hadn’t been playing that much and that was what today was about.”

The Mavs came out flat and trailed by as many as 25 points before mounting a furious comeback led mostly by the second team. Johnson didn’t need any coaching tricks to get anyone’s attention.

“They were really focused,” he said. “Really focused, disappointed and they saw what we can do when we execute our system and our gameplan and when we hustle. We just didn’t have that burst and that hustle. It seemed like they wanted it a little bit more than we did early in the game.

“But then when we really started hustling and bringing a lot of energy, we didn’t have as many defensive breakdowns. Then we got back in the game. We just can’t wait until we’re 20 down to start playing. We saw that in Utah.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Notables from 102-100 loss vs. Lakers

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: At the 7:14 mark of the 1st quarter, the Lakers started a 17-5 run when Dallas led 12-7. When the run ended, at the 2:40 mark, the Lakers held a 24-17 lead.

• After trailing by as many as 25 in the game, the Mavs were to within 1 point, 100-101, with 4 seconds remaining in the game. Derek Fisher hit 1-2 FTs with 4 seconds to go. Dirk Nowitzki missed a 3-point shot as time expired.
• The loss snapped a 5-game Dallas winning streak (dating back to vs. NJ, 3/8).
• To go with a game-high 35 points (11-23 FGs, 3-6 3FGs, 10-12 FTs), Dirk Nowitzki came down with 11 rebounds for his 22nd double-double. Nowitzki blocked a season-high 5 shots.
• Tonight’s game was Nowitzki’s 17th 30-point performance.
• As a team, Dallas blocked a season-high 11 shots. The Mavs fell to 0-2 when blocking at least 10 shots. (previous high was 10 blocks @ ATL, 11/2)
• LA’s Vladimir Radmanovic tied his season-high with 21 points (8-13 FGs, 4-7 3FGs, 1-2 FTs).
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,534 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 269 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 306 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.

Lakers hold on for win

The rally shook the foundation of the American Airlines Center. The call sucked all the life out of the building, not to mention it infuriated the Mavericks sideline.

One call does not a game make, so pinning the 102-100 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers on a whistle against Jerry Stackhouse with less than 30 seconds left wasn’t fair. The Mavs know they dug themselves into a hole that they almost had no right climbing out of Tuesday night.

So when Dirk Nowitzki’s fumbling desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer, off a low inbounds pass from Josh Howard, failed to draw iron, the Mavs had no one to blame but themselves. And that’s exactly what they did.

“We made a run at it, even though it’s somewhat Fool’s Gold,” Stackhouse said. “We didn’t start the game off in the first half as we have in this last little stretch where we were playing – moving the ball, sharing the ball. This game was a game of individual matchups and that’s not how we’ve been playing, and it caught up with us.”

The Pacific Division-leading Lakers (46-21) rebounded from a tough loss at Houston by taking control of the pivotal contest between Western Conference contenders in the first half. Kobe Bryant led the way early and Los Angeles built as much as a 25-point lead in the third quarter.

The Mavs (44-24) were fresh off a five-game winning streak against low-rent teams from the Eastern Conference. Nevertheless, they felt good about their progress heading into a stretch of three straight home games against bona-fide heavyweights.

Sweep the leg

Kobe Bryant is playing with a torn ligament in his pinkie finger on his shooting hand. Is that a weakness the Mavs should try to exploit or go after it tonight?

“That’s my era,” Avery Johnson said. “It’s a different era now.”

So how did it work in your era?

“If you got a report that Stockton had a sore forearm, we tried to knock the heck out of that forearm,” Johnson said. “That was my era. I don’t know if guys even talk about that now.”

I can’t help but think of the “Sweep the leg” scene in the Karate Kid. Anyway, players today are made aware of the opposing team’s medical report.

“Our guys are fully aware of the injury situation of our opponents,” Johnson said.

Johnson: “Renewed energy and emotion”

Jason Kidd not only brings a different look to the team, there’s a different energy. You can see it in Dirk Nowitzki’s fist-pumping enthusiasm, Erick Dampier’s focus at both ends and, without being too corny, this undercurrent of joy each time the Mavericks step onto the hardwood.

“Our team has a lot of renewed energy and emotion,” Avery Johnson said recently. “And again, I saw it in our losses. Not just in the wins.”

The Mavs are a veteran group, with 11 players at least 29-years-old, so this isn’t exactly that youthful we’ve-never-been-here-before enthusiasm that’s enveloped teams such as New Orleans. It’s more of a what-we-can-become vibe.

“We’re a totally different team than we were a couple weeks ago when we made the trade,” Dampier said. “We’re a lot better now. The guys are more settled in. The guys are out there having fun.”

The Mavs also realize the opportunity that lies ahead. A sprint to the finish line – only 15 games remain – and it’s possible a top seed, if not the top seed, is there for the taking going into the playoffs.

Yes, the Mavs have to jump six teams, but they’re only 2 ½ games back of red-hot Rockets going into tonight.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We still have some adjusting to do to Jason and some of the new guys. [Tyronn] Lue is pretty new.

“So we feel if we can fly under the radar and get better from game to game, from practice to practice, that’s fine. Talk about everybody else and hopefully we can be a great team once the playoffs start.”

Lakers & Kobe offer chance to move up

If the Mavs are going to make up ground in the Western Conference, beating teams ahead of them in the standings is crucial. Especially with West teams cannibalizing themselves on a nightly basis as contenders square off.

The Mavs can move ahead of San Antonio into sixth place in the West with a win. So how important is tonight’s tilt with the Lakers, currently second in the conference, at American Airlines Center?

“It’s important from the standpoint we don’t have many games left in the season, but no more important than the games or the teams we’ve played,” Avery Johnson said today. “We’re playing against a really good team tonight. We’re very aware of it with a terrific player that’s been terrific in our league for a long time. We didn’t guard him particularly well the last game.”

Johnson didn’t have to name that player. Kobe Bryant lit up the Mavs for 52 in the double-OT win earlier this month. He made 27 trips to the line, knocking down 20. Josh Howard starts against Bryant, but he’ll only be part of the team approach that includes Jason Kidd, Jerry Stackhouse, Devean George and possibly Antoine Wright.

“Anybody that gets to the free throw line almost 30 times put any team in our league in a bind,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to have to do a better job of defending and being physical without any of the cheap fouls.”

There could be another way to slow Bryant down.

“If he got sick and maybe didn’t put on a uniform,” Jason Kidd joked. “Even if he gets sick, he’s going to put on a uniform. He’s that type of competitor.

“The biggest thing is just trying to make it as tough as possible. He’s the best player in the league, so you’re not going to stop him. You just try to make it as tough as possible and at the end of the night you hope you have more points as a team.’

Monday, March 17, 2008

Big Week opens with Lakers

Is there a record the Mavericks are shooting for in these next three games that will be satisfactory? Of course everyone is gunning for 3-0 with the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs set to parade through American Airlines Center.

Will 2-1 be okay? How will 1-2 play out in local precincts? Do the guys most responsible for that record care how it reads after the Spurs visit Sunday?

“We don’t ever want to lose,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “We want to beat these teams to plant a seed of doubt. We hadn’t beaten them since they’ve made their changes, the Lakers in particular. We need to plant a seed of doubt in their heads, but I don’t think we need to get into the numbers game.

“It’s not going to break us and it’s not going to make us. We go 3-0 and we’ve still got a lot of season left to figure out where we’re going to be in the playoff race. It’s going to have absolutely no bearing on the postseason. Just for our own psyche, we want that confidence from the week that we’ve had against these lesser teams to carry over.”

The Mavs ran through five Eastern Conference cupcakes in impressive fashion. They never trailed in any game, winning by an average of nearly 24 points. These next three aren’t cupcakes.

And against this trio, close won’t cut it. At least that’s a popular opinion after narrow losses to the Lakers, Spurs and Jazz shortly after the Jason Kidd trade. The Mavs led each in the fourth quarter only to get nipped at the finish line.

Read the rest of this story and get a preview of the Lakers in today’s notebook at

Locking up Kobe

What’s the relationship between the numbers 62, 52, 43 and 40? Those are some of Kobe Bryant’s scoring outbursts against the Mavs in recent seasons. There’s no question where the defensive focus is Tuesday night.

“Last time he shot 27 free throws,” Avery Johnson said, referring to how Bryant scored an NBA season-high 52 points in the Lakers’ 108-104 overtime win on March 2. “We can’t get him on the line 27 times.

“Yesterday against Houston, he shoots four. If he shoots 27 free throws yesterday, they probably win, right? So we’ve got to try to do a better job of defending him without fouling.”

The Lakers fell at Houston and out of the top spot in the Western Conference. Josh Howard will open against Bryant, but slowing down the league’s second-leading scorer will take a concerted team approach. Helping matters is the return of Devean George, who logged 21 minutes Sunday after missing three games with a sore lower back.

“We like that he got some good minutes and we want to see him really do well with that second unit,” Johnson said of George.

Get ready for the week ahead

We all know who is on tap for the week ahead. It starts with the Lakers tomorrow night before Boston comes calling Thursday and San Antonio closes out the homestand Sunday.

Avery Johnson, however, is keeping with this long-standing mantra of focusing on the moment.

“I don’t see it as a week,” he said today after practice. “I know we had a decent practice today and we have a shootaround tomorrow and a game tomorrow night. That’s the only thing I see right now.”

But it’s always fun to look ahead, especially after the Mavs wiped their plates clean with a five-pack of cupcakes.

“I’m always looking forward to our next game,” Johnson continued. “If we were playing Minnesota or we were playing San Antonio, the Lakers, Houston, it doesn’t matter. I like this schedule the way it sets up for us that we can play every other day. No matter what happens tomorrow night, we’re going to play another game on Thursday.”

The last time the Mavs ran through a similar gauntlet, they lost tight battles to the Lakers, Spurs and Jazz on the road. Johnson felt good about his team then, just as he does now.

“I was pleased with them when we were losing,” Johnson said. “I don’t like to lose, but I thought our focus was good. I like how they came in the locker room after the game, I liked how their demeanor was in practice, and really and truly we’re not going to get bent out of shape on way or another.

“We’ve been pretty much even keel the whole year. The wins aren’t as great as they look and the losses aren’t as bad. We’re pretty much staying in the middle.”'s Nifty Numbers: Playoff Chase

More from Let's Nifty Numbers help take the guess work out of the playoff chase and division championship races.

With about a month left in the 2007-2008 season, it's time to start thinking playoffs. Boston, Detroit and Orlando have each locked up a guaranteed appearance, but another nine Eastern Conference teams remain in contention for the remaining five spots. Out West, only six games separate No. 1 (Houston) from No. 9 (Denver).

So check out the breakdown of what each team has left in Nifty Numbers at

Stack shows smarts by walking away

Jerry Stackhouse avoided a potential “situation” with Danny Granger on Friday when the Indiana swingman attempted to pick a fight. Stackhouse walked away from the confrontation smiling, while Granger picked up a technical.

“Stack probably early in the season probably would have took a shot at somebody, but we can’t afford to lose him right now,” Avery Johnson said. “We need to see how this starting lineup is going to continue to work for us, get settled into a bench rotation, so I was really proud of him during that time.

“It didn’t show that he was weak because he backed away from a fight. I thought he was smart.”

Rockets top power rankings, Mavs 10th

Power rankings guru John Schuhmann over at writes:
Over the last few weeks, especially after I put the Rockets at No. 1 last week, I've received plenty of mail decrying Houston's winning streak. The predominant sentiment has been that only a few of their wins were against good teams, so it wasn't that big of a deal.
Most of that mail came from Lakers fans. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kobe Bryant:
"People who say that are the same people who say that me scoring 81 was nothing because we played against the Toronto Raptors. That's the kind of meaning that that had. It's B.S. Every team in the NBA is a tough team. Any time you go on a 21-game winning streak, that's absolutely amazing. If it was that easy, there would have been more teams that would have done it."
I also give you the result of yesterday's game: Rockets 104, Lakers 92.
The Mavs check in at the 10th spot, up one from last week. Check out the rest of John's latest rankings at

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Heat turned off in blowout

MIAMI – The previous four were decided long before the fourth quarter started. The Mavericks locked up No. 5 before four minutes were up.

Showing no mercy against the latest in a string of Eastern Conference flyweights, the Mavs rolled through the depleted Heat 98-73 before a sparse Sunday gathering at AmericanAirlines Arena. The five-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest this season.

The Mavs (44-23) haven’t trailed at any point since losing to Houston (March 6) and raced out to a 25-point lead over the Heat in the first quarter. The quick start has been awfully familiar lately. The average margin of victory is 23.6 – no game closer than 19 – during this stretch against East teams with losing records.

The domination has been so complete that the Mavs have only been tied for three minutes and 52 seconds out of a possible 240 minutes. Take out the 0-0 tie at the start of each game and it drops down to 2:15. Though the outcomes haven’t been in doubt, Avery Johnson has learned plenty about his team during the routs.

“This particular team is much tougher mentally, they play much looser and it’s a higher basketball IQ,” he said. “I don’t know where that’s going to take us, but those are good qualities to have.”

Qualities that will be put to the test against the Big Boys lining the road for the upcoming week. The next three games are the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and San Antonio in order at American Airlines Center.

“This is a chance to see where we’re at and start something new,” Jason Kidd said.

The Mavs lost the last meeting to each of those teams.

“We feel like we were right there when we played those teams on the road,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “We lost down the stretch to the Spurs where I could have tied the game twice. We lost in overtime to LA, so hopefully at home we’re going to be more comfortable down the stretch.

“Confidence is higher now with Jason and everybody more adjusted to each other. We feel like at home we should be ready.”

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West is getting tighter

MIAMI – Outside of the Western Conference’s top eight completely flipping positions from now until the end of the regular season, anything can happen. Actually, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Don’t bet on the standings you see today being the ones you see next Sunday. The West is fluid, but teams aren’t separating from the pack. If anything, it’s getting closer. The Mavericks began Sunday at seventh, but could easily be at or near the top of the conference with a solid week.

“There’s a possibility the top four teams can all be separated by one game,” Avery Johnson said before facing the Heat. “I think it may come down to the last game of the season because you’re going to see some shifting and changing at the top of the West probably in the next week.”

Jason Terry doesn’t even bother checking the standings with any regularity.

“Not anymore,” he said. “It changes every two days. It’s unbelievable. It’s going to change again today, I guess. You’ve just got to keep grinding out the wins.”

The Mavs have a golden opportunity to gain ground and gauge their progress with the next three games at American Airlines Center. The Los Angeles Lakers visit Tuesday, Boston on Thursday and San Antonio next Sunday.

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Johnson on Houston's streak

The Rockets are gunning for their 22nd – yes, 22nd! – straight win right now against the Lakers. The winner takes over the top spot in the Western Conference.

It’s already the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Avery Johnson, though, isn’t that surprised.

“It’s not necessarily surprising,” he said. “Sometimes teams get a certain confidence and they get hot. Sometimes there’s more pressure on their opponents that’s playing against them to ‘end the streak.’ So I think more than anything, even though they’re winning a lot, the teams that are playing against them seem to have more pressure.

“And as we found out in our league, sometimes the teams that have more pressure on them don’t play as well. The team that can play loose and it’s ‘us against the world’ and ‘we’re the underdogs’ – they’re playing without Yao and they’re playing relaxed. Hey, they’re just playing like they have nothing to lose and a lot of it is going their way.”

Johnson’s team is looking to extend its streak to five.

“I’d like to get really hot in the last two weeks of the season, to tell you the truth,” he said.

Avery Johnson in "Black Magic"

Avery Johnson is one of the featured personalities in “Black Magic,” the ESPN film chronicling the Civil Rights Movement through the experiences of players and coaches who attended Historically Black College and Universities. The two-part film airs tonight and Monday.

“For me it brought back great memories of selling games out at the Southern University mini-dome – 7,500 people and you can’t find a ticket in the building,” Johnson said. “For me back then, we thought we were the Lakers of black college basketball.”

Johnson did the interviews almost two years ago. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe is a co-producer. Wynton Marsalis and Samuel L. Jackson are the narrators.

George and Allen playing, Marion out

Devean George walked over to his locker, pulled out his jersey and dropped it on his chair. That was his way of saying he’s suiting up against Miami. He’s been out the last three games with a lower back soreness.

“We’re going to use him,” Avery Johnson said. “I need to see how he fits in with that second team.”

The rest of the second team, according to Johnson, is Tyronn Lue, Jason Terry, Brandon Bass and Malik Allen. Speaking of Allen, he’ll also play after leaving Friday’s win over Indiana with a strained hip.

The Mavs inactive list: JJ Barea, Eddie Jones and Jamaal Magloire. Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem are out for Miami.