Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rick Carlisle first to interview

Rick Carlisle was the first to interview for the Mavericks’ vacant coaching position, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson confirmed. The search for the ninth coach in club history is in the beginning stages and there isn’t a specific timetable to hire Avery Johnson’s replacement.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings,” Nelson said Saturday. “We’re very impressed by Rick, his basketball IQ and, more important, the kind of person he is. We’re excited about continuing the discussion.”

The first session with Carlisle took place Thursday in Indianapolis. Nelson is heading up the search, which will also include candidates meeting with owner Mark Cuban.

“We look forward to getting together with Mark,” Nelson said.

Nelson added that Carlisle is not the only candidate on the list. The size of the list depends on the availability and interest of other potential coaches. Nelson did acknowledge that he’s one, though it’s highly unlikely he’ll take the job.

“I’m the last name on the list and hopefully it won’t come to that,” he said. “I’m a safety valve.”

Carlisle, 48, coached in Detroit and Indiana, compiling a 281-211 regular-season record and 30-32 playoff mark, and has guided both teams to the Eastern Conference finals. He claimed the 2001-02 Coach of the Year award with the Pistons and played five years in the league.

Nelson said that Carlisle fits his profile of a “balanced winner,” a successful coach with NBA experience who doesn’t favor offense over defense or vice versa. Carlisle hasn’t coached since 2006-07 in Indiana, the only season out of six that he failed to take a team to the postseason.

The team dismissed Johnson on Wednesday, the day after the season ended with first-round playoff exit at New Orleans.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Avery Johnson Q&A: Former coach opens up

Avery Johnson enters his life as the former coach of the Dallas Mavericks proud of what he’s accomplished, secure that he handled himself with integrity and ready to move on to the next professional challenge. The man dubbed the “Little General” years ago didn’t hint at what that challenge might be, but expect to see him on the sidelines again.

Dressed in a brown pin-striped suit and yellow open-collared shirt, Johnson met with reporters today in the lobby of his uptown condo building. He talked about the peaks and valleys of the three-plus years of his first head-coaching gig after replacing Don Nelson, and the decision made by owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson to take the franchise in another direction.

Opening statement:
First of all, I want to say thank you to all of our players that have played here for me in the last 3 ½ years, four including my assistant stint. All of our players that put on a Maverick uniform, they cooperated, they were coachable and we have a lot of great memories here with our players.

I want to thank Mark for taking a shot and a swing on me four years ago as an assistant, to think enough of me to bring me in immediately, he and Nellie, to make me an assistant head coach without any experience. I’ve enjoyed my time here working with Mark. We had a lot of great moments. And we had a lot of fun.

I want to thank every coach I had a chance to coach with and work with. All of them, the coaching staff from this year, previous coaching staffs, we had a lot of great memories. My assistant, Leslie Tracy, who’s been here with me and [director of basketball communications Sarah Melton], and I could go on and on down the list of a lot of tremendous people I had a chance to work with. That’s what this whole deal is about, relationships.

I also want to thank the fans for their support. We sold out a bunch of games. We had a lot of fun in the AAC. And contrary to some segments, we had a tremendous amount of success here. We can get up every morning and look ourselves in the mirror, every player that played, coach, and also myself. We can look ourselves in the mirror and really be proud of what we took over when we took over this team and the direction we went in. We can feel very proud of what we did, each and every day. Every decision that I had a chance to be a part of, I can really feel good about it.

But now, it’s time to move on. There are no hard feelings, there’s no bitterness. I’m a man of integrity and honesty and like I said, I can look at myself in the mirror with every decision I made and feel really proud of it. So again, I want to thank Mark, every player, every coach, everybody I had chance to work with, Donnie. I know it wasn’t an easy deal for Donnie to come visit with me yesterday, and Keith Grant, but it had to be done.

Why did it have to be done?
I think in terms of what I came from a blueprint of what I knew how an organization should be ran from top to bottom. I knew what type of players should be drafted, free agent signings, how the coach should function. I had a really good blueprint with all my successful years down south. And we were able to come here and really make some headway. We were able to change the culture and attitude.

I had a chance to work under a phenomenal coach in coach Nelson. But as coach Nelson said, he felt he couldn’t take it any further. And a lot of the players we brought were players at that particular time that I recommended and he thought I should have an opportunity to take them forward. He had lost [Steve] Nash and he couldn’t get over that. So again, we had a chance to change the culture and take it. Now it’s time for somebody else to take it to the next level and somebody else to work with management and players, and that’s OK. It’s just time for somebody else.

At what point did you realize this might be a reality?
This is a results-driven business and we got the results that we wanted in terms of when we made it to the Finals. Now once you make it to the Finals, one of two teams are going to win, but this organization had never made it there before, so that was a pretty good result. Not the ending result of making it there, but that was a pretty good result. And by the way, that was a pretty good team.

That team and the team that we had the year before that made it to the semifinals when we lost to Phoenix in the second round, those two teams were really deep, special teams, so we got the result we wanted. The next year when we won 67 games, that team significantly, significantly overachieved. We paid the price for it in the playoffs and this year’s team, it was a miracle we made the playoffs. I just think it was time for somebody else to come in, Mark and Donnie felt the same way and that’s why we’re here today.

Read the rest of this story at

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Audio: Player exit interviews & AJ on GAC

Want to hear the thoughts of Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and more? Thanks to our friends at 103.3 FM ESPN, you can find it here it at

Avery Johnson wasn't around to meet with the media, but he check did in with ESPN's Galloway & Co. to talk about his dismissal and future.

Long offseason of change begins

The 2007-08 season didn’t play out the way the Mavericks wanted for a myriad of issues that were first addressed with the dismissal of head coach Avery Johnson. Looking back at what went wrong, and forward to what lies ahead will occupy the franchise throughout an offseason that began in earnest on Wednesday.

The team is facing a major overhaul, beginning with the hiring of the next head coach. The organizational philosophy and makeup of the next season’s team will fall into place from there. Changes took place from Don Nelson to Johnson and the ninth coach in franchise history will have his own vision.

“We’ve got to bring a coach in that brings the best out of what he’s got here,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the team’s exit meeting. “Open up the offense a lot more, run, but still a guy that knows how to coach defense. Basically you don’t want to go back to the Nellie days where we just run-and-gun and have fun, and get scored on every time down, so that’s obviously not the solution you want to get to.”

The front office tried to find answers with the trade for Jason Kidd with less than 30 games left in the regular season. The blockbuster deal didn’t have the impact the team hoped. Recognized as perhaps the best pure passer in the NBA, Kidd was supposed to bring a new dimension to Johnson’s system.

The Mavs, however, struggled against playoff contenders during the season before squeezing into the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference with a 51-31 record. The playoffs opened with a pair of double-digit losses in New Orleans and included several well-publicized off-court incidents last week.

It all came to an end with Tuesday’s 99-94 loss, as the Hornets closed out a 4-1 series win. Though a number of reasons factored into the first-round setback, Nowitzki also hinted that Kidd’s talents may have been underutilized.

“We probably could’ve opened up a little more, had a little more free flow, let Jason create and not just make him a weak side spot-up shooter,” he said. “But Avery had his belief in the system and that’s the way he thought we could be the most efficient and the best team we can be, and things just didn’t work out.”

Read the rest of this story along with a behind-the-scenes slideshow at

Avery Johnson dismissed as coach

Avery Johnson was dismissed as coach of the Dallas Mavericks the day after a disappointing season ended with a first-round playoff exit in New Orleans. Incredible highs and heartbreaking lows marked the tenure of Johnson, who leaves as the most successful coach in franchise history by many measures.

Johnson became the eighth coach in team history on March 19, 2005 and posted a record of 194-70 (.735) during the regular season. He led the Mavs to the playoffs four consecutive years, including a trip to the 2006 NBA Finals. His postseason record of 23-24 (.489) included 12 losses in the last 15 games.

“You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” Johnson said Tuesday night after the 99-94 loss to the Hornets that ended the series. “That is called life. There are a lot of highs and lows in coaching, but the highs outweigh the lows. The rewards outweigh anything.

“I’ve been through much worse. There are a lot of people in bad shape and I am not one of them.”

The search for the ninth coach in club history begins immediately. The next coach takes over a team that could be significantly different from the squad that suffered through an inconsistent 51-31 regular season that earned the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

The 15-man roster features eight potential free agents. Dirk Nowitzki remains the focal point, but the cast of characters surrounding the 2006-07 MVP is expected to undergo major change. Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass are under contract, though Kidd can option out. Johnson’s staff – Paul Westphal, Joe Prunty and Mario Elie – currently remains under contract through next season.

In his first full season as head coach (2005-06), Johnson guided the Mavericks to 60 wins and their first appearance in the NBA Finals. He became the fastest coach to reach 50 wins (62 games), coached the Western Conference All-Star team and was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

Johnson led Dallas to a franchise-record 67 wins, the NBA’s best record, the following season. The mark was also the sixth best in league history. Following a 10-0 month of February, Johnson garnered Western Conference Coach of the Month honors, an award he won three times in his career.

This past season, Johnson became the fastest coach in NBA history to reach 150 wins with a victory over Memphis on November 17, 2007. He accomplished that feat in just 191 games.

“It is never easy to relieve a coach of his duties, especially one of Avery’s caliber,” owner Mark Cuban said. “He is a talented coach and I want to thank him for his efforts over the last four years and what he has done for this franchise. We wish him well in the future.”

The Mavs were the first head-coaching opportunity for Johnson, who played 16 years in the NBA before retiring before the 2004-05 season. He joined the staff of former coach Don Nelson and took the coaching reins 64 games into his first season on the bench.

“I would like to thank Avery for his valuable contributions to the Mavericks organization,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “Over the past four years, he has been an integral part of our team’s success. We wish AJ nothing but the very best in his future endeavors.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Season comes to a disappointing end

NEW ORLEANS – With the season and possibly more hanging in the balance, the Mavericks summoned the kind of effort needed to continue the fight. It still wasn’t enough.

Not much went right Tuesday night when the odds were already long enough. The final blow came in the form of a gut-wrenching 99-94 loss at New Orleans Arena, giving the second-seeded Hornets a 4-1 series win. The Mavs begin another long summer after a second consecutive first-round playoff exit.

“Our offseason has started,” Avery Johnson said after his fourth playoff run as coach. “We will evaluate everybody and every situation from the coaching staff and the players.

“[Team owner Mark Cuban] and I have great communication and we’ll sit down and talk about it, and see what we need to do to go from here.”

After being virtually uncompetitive during the three previous losses, including the first two games in New Orleans, the Mavs slugged it out with the Southwest Division champs for the full 48 minutes. Dirk Nowitzki should know. He was out there for all 48. The last seven minutes witnessed a furious rally from 17 down that made it a one possession game with 33.2 seconds left.

The Mavs got the stop they needed with the score 97-94, but Tyson Chandler tipped out Chris Paul’s miss back into Hornets’ hands. The Mavs were forced to foul and Peja Stojakovic nailed two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining. The five-point deficit turned into a five-month break.

Nowitzki’s grit seeped into most of the team, which was trying to extend the series to Game 6 back at American Airlines Center on Thursday. Other than winning Game 3 in Dallas, the focus and tenacity had never been better. It was what Johnson, coaching in his hometown, hoped to see and the players hoped to show after running their own practice Monday.

“The effort was great,” Nowitzki said. “We just didn’t play well enough to win. In Game 4 when we lost at home, we needed that effort.”

Read the rest of the story at

Kidd on the players-only practice

From all accounts, the players-only practice yesterday was well received. The spirited session without the coaching staff came on the eve of the biggest game of the season. What was the message?

“For us to get together to talk about some different things that we need to do in this series to have some success and to get some work to get better,” Jason Kidd said. “I thought everything yesterday went well, so we’ll see how it goes tonight.”

So what’s the mindset going into the first elimination game of the series?

“The biggest thing is to act as if it’s Game 7,” Kidd added. “This is it. You’ve got to have your best performance from here on out if you want to have any way to get this thing back to Dallas and continue the series. We have to come out relaxed, get off to a good start and play for 48 minutes. And if we can do that, hopefully we can have more points than those guys.”

Playing spoiler on Scott's big night

Freshly-named Coach of the Year recipient Byron Scott is receiving the Red Auerbach Trophy before Game 5. A former winner hopes that’s the only highlight of the evening for Scott.

“We want to try to spoil it today,” said Avery Johnson, the 2006 winner. “We want him to be happy about receiving the award, but hopefully go to bed tonight with a loss.”

In his fourth season as the Hornets’ head coach, Scott received 458 points, including 70 first-place votes, from a panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Coaches were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was second with 242 points (23 first-place votes) and the Houston Rockets’ Rick Adelman was third with 193 points (17 first-place votes).

“It means a lot to our team because we understand it’s a collective team effort,” Hornets guard Chris Paul said.

Right state of mind for Game 5

If early indications mean anything, the Mavs are mentally in the right place going into a must-win Game 5.

“I like what I see,” Avery Johnson said today. “I like that they are disappointed in being in the position we’re in. I like the attitude that they came in with in our film session this morning and our breakfast meeting. I like the mood of where we are this morning.

“Guys are focused. They know where we are. We’re not ready for our season to come to an end. With that being said, hopefully you’ll see that in our performance.”

He hopes that focus doesn’t lead to playing tight.

“It’s a really highly concentrated atmosphere, but at the same time we don’t want it to get concentrated so much where guys can’t still get relaxed and play,” Johnson said. “There are no tricks or anything at this point. We just have to get out there and out-hustle our opponents, be mentally and physically tougher than they are for a long stretch of the game.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Players run practice going into Game 5

NEW ORLEANS – Whatever happens Tuesday night in New Orleans, the Mavericks are coming home. It’s either to play another game or face another offseason of questions and uncertainty.

That point was reached after Sunday’s disappointing 13-point loss, leaving New Orleans one victory shy of advancing to the Western Conference semifinals. Trailing the best-of-7 series 3-1 with Game 5 on the Hornets’ floor, the Mavs need three straight wins to hold off an early summer.

“We’re still alive,” Johnson said Monday from the team hotel. “We’re playing this game tomorrow and we have every reason in the world to think that we can win it.”

They’re not going to win all three Tuesday. The one-game-at-a-time manta is cliché, but it’s also the only approach left. The Mavs departed Monday afternoon for New Orleans after a rare players-only practice.

Johnson met with the team before canceling the scheduled workout. The players then decided to get on the court anyway without the coaching staff, conceivably to work out a few things amongst themselves. Johnson welcomed the move.

“I don’t know if we need another drill,” he said. “We’ve been having drills and scrimmages and a lot of things since the first day of training camp, and if you don’t have it by now, I don’t know if you’re going to have a Cliff Notes session and get it.

“I was thinking about just keeping the legs fresh and meeting on the plane, but they decided that they needed to go down on the court and do something. We’ll see what type of carryover it has.”

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Job speculation not worrying Avery

Avery Johnson isn’t going to waste any time dealing with rumors about his job status. He’s got plenty more on his mind.

“For me it hasn’t been a distraction, because I go about doing what I do day-in and day-out,” he said. “I don’t think anybody outworks our staff. I think we’re very prepared. We try to do everything that we think we should do. We don’t want to go overboard, but we feel we prepare the players in such a way that they need to be prepared.

“I don’t think it’s been a distraction for us. Hopefully it hasn’t been a distraction for the players. Not any situation that involves me. If it involves something else that’s different, but I don’t think what we’ve done we have to be ashamed of. Day-in and day-out we try to lay it on the line and try to get the team in the best shape we can to go out and perform. And from there, obviously, you need some of the guys to really step up and play well.”

He’s seen that from the Hornets.

“New Orleans is not really doing anything that’s tricky,” Johnson continued. “David West decided to come out and dominate the third quarter [of Game 4]. Chris Paul has pretty dominated the whole series. It’s really simple basketball.”

Game 5 Watch Party at Dave & Buster's

When: Tuesday, April 29 vs. New Orleans Hornets

Time: Doors to the Showroom open at 5:00 and the game starts at 6:00 PM

Location: Dave & Buster's on Walnut Hill @ 75-Central

Event details: Join the Mavs and watch the game on the D&B Big Screen in their Show Room. Come cheer the Mavs on with your favorite ManiAACs. There will be giveaways of tickets and other great merchandise.

Ticket scenario for Game 6

If the Mavs win Game 5, single-game tickets will go on sale starting at 10 a.m. on Wednesday (April 30). The game would be played at American Airlines Center on Thursday (May 1).

Approximately 1,000 tickets priced $12 and up will be available and purchase is limited to four tickets per person. Tickets will be available online at, via phone at 214.747.MAVS and at the American Airlines Center North Box Office.

Kidd fine for Game 5

Jason Kidd will not be suspended for Game 5 tomorrow night. He was ejected in the fourth quarter of Game 4 for a Flagrant 2 against Hornets guard Jannero Pargo.

Attempting to stop Pargo on the break, Kidd pulled down the diminutive guard by the back of the neck. Pargo caught himself before hitting the floor and was not hurt.

The league office reviews all flagrant fouls and reserves the right to impose additional punishment.

Thoughts on the series from TNT last night

Chris Paul on the importance of winning Game 4 to send the series back to New Orleans: “It’s a great feeling to go up 3-1 knowing that we are going back to New Orleans where I feel we have some of the best fans in the league. We have momentum. We knew that we hadn’t won here since my man (former Hornets point guard) Muggsy (Bogues) was running the point so we wanted to change that.”

Paul on the importance of Hornets head coach Byron Scott’s NBA experience: “Coach has been to the Finals as a player and a coach. He really has the utmost confidence in us. He never lets us get too high on our horse. After the game (tonight), he let us know how hard it is to close out a team and he stays on us. Most of all, he lets us play, he lets us go out there and make our mistakes and he rewards us when we play well.”

Kenny Smith on the questions that surround the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns: “This is an interesting time watching Phoenix and Dallas go down. Two perennial powers in the Western Conference for years and years and years, both teams made big trades. Your mind will tell you that neither of these teams can come back and if they don’t, where is the next step for these two teams? What personnel will be there? Do they give it another full year again? Do they blow this whole thing up and start again? Both teams made big additions and subtractions on their team with the short-term goal of winning the Championship and that short-term goal hasn’t gotten here.”

Charles Barkley on criticizing the Suns and Mavericks for making big in-season trades for Shaquille O’Neal and Jason Kidd respectively: “(The media) is going to jump on the Phoenix trade and they’re going to jump on the Dallas trade. But I take my hat off to (Phoenix GM) Steve Kerr and Mark Cuban because they had to try something. Everyone can say now that it’s not working and it’s a bad trade but they both had to do something. But the truth of the matter is, the Lakers made the best trade getting Pau Gasol. Shaq has been the man for a long time; he’s obviously on the downside of his career. Jason is going to the Hall of Fame. They’ve both been great players. Everyone is going to say those trades didn’t work but those teams couldn’t stand-pat.”

Chris Webber on the lack of energy that Mavericks have: “This is why I think the series is over, if they didn’t have more energetic guys coming off the bench (like Brandon Bass) after the way they lost last year to an eighth seed and they don’t have more passion than a guy coming off the bench who hasn’t played much. I really don’t think they are moving on. Brandon Bass played a great game.”

Webber on the Dallas Mavericks: “No one came over to help (Jason Kidd after his flagrant foul on Hornets guard Jannero Pargo). I wouldn’t want to play for Dallas and be in the trenches and then not have any players watch my back because I think the only players that would come is Kidd and Stackhouse. So I don’t want to take all that heat for the other guys when no one is going to come to my rescue.”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Notables from 97-84 loss vs. Hornets

TONIGHT’S KEY RUN: Dallas led 32-23 with 11:07 to go in the 2nd quarter. The Hornets then used a 23-8 run through the 2:41 mark of the period to take a 46-40 lead.

• Dirk Nowitzki recorded his 3rd postseason double-double with a Dallas-high 22 points (8-18 FGs, 2-4 3FGs, 4-7 FTs) and a game-high 13 rebounds (10 DR).
• Over the last 2 games, Jason Terry is averaging 21.0 points. Tonight, he contributed 20 points (6-16 FGs, 2-7 3FGs, 6-7 FTs).
• Jose Juan Barea made his 1st appearance of the postseason. In 5:15, he scored 8 points.
• Jason Kidd was disqualified from the game with 7:16 to go in the 4th quarter after committing a flagrant 2 penalty on New Orleans’ Jannero Pargo. Before the penalty, he recorded 3 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists in 29 minutes.
• New Orleans’ rookie Julian Wright recorded a postseason career-high 11 points (5-6 FGs, 1-2 FTs).
• New Orleans now leads the best-of-seven series, 3-1, as the teams head back to New Orleans for Game 5 on Tuesday night.
• Tonight’s attendance was 20,644 fans (19,200 capacity). The Mavs have sold out 276 consecutive regular season games at AAC and 315 games including the postseason. Dallas currently owns the longest running sellout streak in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings previously held the streak but failed to sellout their home opener this season. The Mavs are now ranked #10 on the all-time NBA sellout streak list.

Mavs face elimination after Game 4

A season’s worth of inconsistency reared its head Sunday night when the Mavericks could least afford to see it. Needing another complete effort to forge a series tie, it just wasn’t there and it left their playoff lives one loss from extinction.

New Orleans took a 3-1 lead with their 97-84 victory before 20,644 stunned fans at American Airlines Center and can close out the first round Tuesday on its homecourt. The Hornets won the first two games of the series at New Orleans Arena.

“I thought we were primed for a really good win,” a surprised Avery Johnson said. “I thought we were going to come out and just play aggressive from start to finish. I thought our third quarter would be one of our better third quarters and it wasn’t. And then we just started pressing.

“We didn’t make shots. We didn’t drive enough. You could tell by the free throws, we go from shooting 38 to 16. You can’t shoot 16 free throws in a playoff game and shoot 36 percent from the field. Again, we weren’t as aggressive as we should have been and we are going to have to be aggressive from start to finish in New Orleans.”

No margin of error remains for the Mavs, who have no choice but to win three straight, including two on the road. The odds definitely aren’t in their favor. It’s only been done eight times in league history and just twice when the two wins were needed on the road.

If anything, the Mavs can find solace in the fact that it has been done before. What else can they look to?

“Our backs are against the wall,” said Josh Howard, a 26-percent shooter (15 of 58) in the series. “We have nothing to lose.”

Read the rest of this story at

Game 5 TV schedule

Fresh from the league office: Here is the definite game schedule for Tuesday, April 29.

Game 5, Philadelphia at Detroit, 6:00 PM, NBATV
Game 5, Dallas at New Orleans, 6:00 PM, TNT
Game 5, Utah at Houston, 8:30 PM, NBATV
Game 5, Phoenix at San Antonio, 8:30 PM, TNT

* All times CT.

Josh Howard apologizes

I'm sure many of you know about the events of recent days involving Josh Howard and the disclosure of some of his offseason activities. You can listen here to Howard's interview on the Michael Irvin Show on ESPN FM 103.3.

In light of those remarks, Josh posed the following on his website,, today:

An Apology
by Josh Howard

I recently talked about a controversial topic with members of the media. I used poor judgment and I want to apologize to my fans, the Mavericks and the NBA. I am fortunate to be playing basketball in the NBA. I realize I have a responsibility as a role model for young fans, and I take that responsibility seriously.

Paul pulling for Bass

Competition doesn’t remove the human element. Chris Paul and Brandon Bass are on opposite sides in this series, but they share a bond three years in the making. Paul can’t help but be proud of Bass, who played little during his two-year stint with the Hornets.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Paul said. “B-Bass is my guy, we came in together. It’s been great to see how well he’s played. Just wish he had a Hornets uniform on.”

Bass has had a little extra in the tank this season against the Hornets, who gave up on the LSU product and Baton Rouge native. Paul, for one, was sad to see him leave via free agency.

“Most definitely, but at the same time I think everything happens for a reason,” Paul said. “B-Bass is in a great situation here, so I’m more happy that he’s here playing rather than being with us and not sure what’s happening. As long as he’s doing well, I’m happy for him.”

Damp "holding" on to Tyson

Byron Scott gets the quote of the day award for his explanation of keeping Tyson Chandler out of foul trouble against Erick Dampier. Sounds like Tyson and Damp are getting too cozy.

“I just really try to make him [Chandler] aware of trying to make sure he doesn’t get any cheap ones early,” Scott said. “I think he has some legitimate gripes because Dampier’s holding him about as much as probably his wife would at 11 o’clock at night. It’s ridiculous how many times he holds him and he doesn’t get a call, but Tyson gets the little ticky-tack calls.

“He just has to be a little bit smarter. As much as we can keep him in the game in the first quarter, obviously that helps.”

Hornets looking at it as Game 7, too

As you might imagine, the Hornets view tonight as their chance to essentially close out the series. But for that to happen, they can’t repeat their Game 3 showing. Bring on the boxing analogies.

“We definitely need to come out in attack mode,” Tyson Chandler said. “The last game we were just sitting back, sitting back, sitting back, kind of like taking their punches and waiting for it to be our turn and it was never our turn.

“I think we need to come out and throw the first punch and keep swinging. This is a good ballclub we’re talking about here. This isn’t some hokey-doke team. This is the Dallas Mavericks and they’ve been good for awhile now. We have to come out and deliver a knockout punch.”

The head of the New Orleans snake echoed the Mavs’ sense of urgency.

“We’ve got to approach this game like it’s Game 7,” Chris Paul said. “This game right here doesn’t win it for us, but it gives us an opportunity to go back home and close it out. This is right now the biggest game of the season for us.”

Hornets coach Byron Scott: “We have to treat it like they treat it. We have to treat it like it’s a Game 7. Obviously, we can go back 2-2 and have homecourt advantage. To me it’s the biggest game of the series for both teams. I know they don’t want to go back down 3-1.

“If they do tie it up at 2, the momentum kind of shifts in their favor. All things we were able to accomplish last week, I don’t necessarily say it goes down the drain, but it just makes it a little tougher. We have to come out here with a different attitude than we did in Game 3.”

Still room to improve

Being in the series despite not having guys such as Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Jerry Stackhouse playing up to their capabilities consistently gives Avery Johnson something to build on.

“We think if we can get everybody on the same page and playing good basketball, which we’re going to need to do against this No. 2 seed that’s awfully good, we feel there’s that next level for us to go to,” Johnson said. “We didn’t play a perfect game that last game. We did some nice things and we won it, but when the men saw the film, they still see there’s an inch or a yard where we can continue to improve.”

It’s not so much specific improvement.

“More of the same, but just better,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “I thought we had their guns under control pretty good and then we let Pargo come in and get 30. He had some wide-open shots. We lost his body some on some screening situations, so that just shows us how good they are, how deep they are.

“They can hurt you in a lot of ways. Just more of the same. Focus on the gameplan and just try to play Mavericks basketball and we should be all right.”

Dirk ditches brace

Dirk Nowitzki’s left ankle may not be 100 percent throughout the playoff run, but it’s good enough to ditch the bulky brace that he started wearing April 2.

Nowitzki didn’t wear it in Game 3. He hasn’t worn it during shootarounds and light practices for a while now. He sure appears to be fine on the court, averaging 30 points and 11.3 rebounds in the series.

Getting back to even

The first half of the get-back-into-the-series equation was completed Friday. Tonight at 8:30 inside American Airlines Center, the second half is there for the taking against New Orleans.

“If we lose tonight, all that great effort in Game 3 was wasted,” Dirk Nowitzki said after shootaround today. “We’ve got to do more of the same. The same energy, same focus, try to get the stops, try to make things hard on them and then get the ball in Kidd’s hands and play off him offensively, move the ball and let the fans carry us through.”

Avery Johnson feels his team will treat it as a Game 7 and tie the series at 2-2.

“We felt that way coming into Game 3,” he said. “When we’ve been in situations where we felt we’ve had to win, I liked our team’s body language and focus, so hopefully we feel the same way about this game. We’ve had games this year where had we not won those games, we wouldn’t have even made it to the playoffs.

“And our men felt like we had to have those games and they came out and played accordingly. When we’ve played games without that sense of urgency, we’re not as good. I feel we’ll have it again tonight.”

The Mavs have plenty of experience with 2-0 situations.

“We’ve been on both ends,” Nowitzki said. “We were up 2-0 against Miami in the Finals and ended up losing four straight. We lost both home games [against Houston] before and came back to win, so I think in this league anything is possible.

“We know in this league it only takes one win or one great quarter to come back and win and change the momentum of the series. So to us anything is possible. We’re trying to have a similar effort tonight, have some fun out there, get our crowd going and hopefully go back to New Orleans with a tied series.”

So it’s a must win?

“Pretty much,” Nowitzki continued. “You don’t want to go down 3-1 and then go back to their place. They’ve been great at home all season. They beat some great teams there. They play with confidence and make shots. We’d love to go back tied and put a little pressure on them to perform. They’ve basically got a free swing again tonight, so we’ve got to be ready.”