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The Mortar Mav
Chris Ballard
February 20, 2006
Whatever holes streaking Dallas has--on the boards, offense or D--Josh Howard is there to fill them in
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February 20, 2006

The Mortar Mav

Whatever holes streaking Dallas has--on the boards, offense or D--Josh Howard is there to fill them in

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SOMETIMES TEAMWORK gets its due: Four Pistons were picked to be All-Stars. Then there are the Mavericks, who have only one player going to Houston (you might have heard of him, big blond German guy, deadly from the perimeter) despite their 39-11 record at week's end, third best in the league. This is what happens when a team relies on defense, a deep bench and a disciplined, share-the-wealth system--and it hasn't gone to the Finals the last two years.

No player exemplifies Dallas's rough-hewn, post-Nellie ethos better than third-year swingman Josh Howard. Long and spindly at 6'7" and 210 pounds, Howard was drafted 29th out of Wake Forest for his D, which earned him instant minutes under Don Nelson because, well, no one else on the team could defend. Since then, however, Howard has evolved into a tough cover himself; through Sunday he was averaging 15.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals. His versatility is crucial to the Mavs' success because Nelson's successor, Avery Johnson, always wants to have at least two scorers (such as Dirk Nowitzki and point guard Jason Terry) and two stoppers (such as center DeSagana Diop and shooting guard Adrian Griffin) on the floor; Howard essentially gives Dallas an extra contributor at both ends. "Josh is our wild card," says assistant coach Del Harris. "He might get 15 rebounds or 30 points, he might get five steals or five assists, he might guard the other team's best two or three man."

Call him the Mortar Mav: Howard fills in the cracks, doing whatever the team needs on any given night. (Other mortar types around the NBA include Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince, Luol Deng, Andre Iguadola and Shawn Marion.) For example, in a 112-76 rout of the Heat last Thursday, Howard drove the lane and dunked, flew in for two putbacks, knocked down a three, initiated the offense, deflected passes (he leads the team in that category) and guarded Dwyane Wade. "Josh really complements my game because in those areas where I'm not very good, he's great," Nowitzki said after the game. "Slashing, getting offensive rebounds and tipping them in, tipping them out. Keeping the ball alive."

In the half-court Howard's not a great passer or ball handler, but he's dangerous in post ups and off the dribble. He's adept at runners and leaners; Harris thinks his floater, which he pushes up from the shoulder, like a waiter hoisting a tray, is second only to Steve Nash's. Howard's also a good enough shooter (38.6% on threes) that teams can't leave him, especially if he has his feet set. Howard's value is quantifiable: At week's end the Mavs were 11-0 when he had a double double and 14-0 when he scored 20 or more points.

Despite Howard's success, many fans still mistake him for Dallas guard Marquis Daniels, or think that Daniels is him, or that the two are twins, even though Daniels has grown out his hair into twiggy minidreads this season. The confusion stems from their similar body types and penchant for wearing headbands. His solution: an alias. "When people say, 'Do I know you?' I say I'm Mickey Anderson from Memphis and that I have a twin," says Howard. "That usually throws people off." (Who is Mickey Anderson? Howard picked the name randomly, but hey, it's his alias.)

As for his style of play, Howard likes to think of himself as a "firestarter." "I'm that guy in the pickup game who will do anything," he says. "Guard the point, play in the post. I enjoy doing all those things. It's just how I am."

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