KEY BENCH PLAYERS:
G- F Jerry Stackhouse, G- F Trenton Hassell*, C DeSagana Diop, G-F Eddie Jones, F
Nick Fazekas (R) *New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 67-15 (1st
in West) Points scored: 100.0 (9th in NBA) Points allowed: 92.8 (4th) Coach:
Avery Johnson (fourth season with Mavericks)
After his team
endured the worst meltdown in NBA playoff history, a first-round loss to the
eighth-seeded Warriors, Dirk Nowitzki needed to get far, far away. So in May he
took an unscheduled trip Down Under. For five weeks he and his longtime coach
and mentor, Holger Geschwindner, backpacked through Australia, New Zealand and
Fiji, taking in the sights, big and small. But there was one thing that
Nowitzki did not see: an entire NBA playoff game. "I saw one half of one
Finals game," he recalls. "I couldn't watch. Watching other teams in
the playoffs was frustrating to me."
and rededicated ("The trip really got me excited about basketball
again," he says), Nowitzki returned to Dallas prepared to make sure that
the Mavericks don't go under for a third straight year. In 2006 they blew a 2-0
lead over the Heat in the Finals, and last season--after winning 67 games, tied
for the sixth highest total in league history--they imploded against the
Warriors, with Nowitzki, the regular-season MVP, scoring just eight points in
the decisive Game�6.
For its part, the
front office resisted the natural inclination to overhaul the team, leaving the
burden of delivering the franchise's first title on Nowitzki's shoulders. In
the off-season coach Avery Johnson told Nowitzki, 29, that he needs to become a
better passer, offensive rebounder and defender. And although point guard Devin
Harris was given a five-year contract extension in September and Josh Howard
continues to ascend the ranks of the league's elite small forwards, it was
Nowitzki whom Johnson asked to take on more of a leadership role, a
responsibility the laid-back German hasn't always fully accepted.
So will this
finally be the year for the Mavs? "We have all the pieces we need,"
Nowitzki says. "We believe we're good enough."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Mavs
People say that
they need a new point guard instead of Devin�Harris, but I don't think
that's the issue. I think they need another half-court finisher up front to
play in the low post, even if just for a few minutes a game--a mobile power
forward who can play the high-low game with Dirk�Nowitzki and help steady
their half-court offense. Right now they struggle in the half-court when they
have to play there on a consistent basis. . . . I see Josh�Howard as a
true star in the league who is going to keep improving. He plays both ends of
the floor, he's hard to guard, and he can defend three and sometimes four
positions. . . . Jerry�Stackhouse has at least one more really good year
in him. He seems charged up to be in that organization--he even shared the ball
a little bit, which shows that he's buying into what they're all about. . . .
Trading for Trenton�Hassell was a good move; he'll help them more than
Greg Buckner would have. And if Devean�George is healthy this year, that
could be another area of improvement.