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Original Issue

4 Dallas Mavericks With an imposing 10-man rotation headed by the league's top trio, Mark Cuban's club is ready to light it up

Given Mark Cuban's tempestuous nature, it's fair to ask when the
young owner's patience will run out. After all, it's been nearly
two years--two years!--since Cuban bought the Mavs and began
spreading around his personal charm and his millions of dollars.
Personnel changes have abounded. Wins have increased. Deals with
foreign players have multiplied. Amenities in the locker room
(oversized cubicles, personal CD players, etc.) have continued
unabated. Thousands of e-mails have been answered. (Write the
main man at Still, one wonders if the
Mavericks--as entertaining a band as will take the floor in the
NBA this season--have enough to vault over Tim Duncan and Chris
Webber, never mind Shaquille O'Neal.

"Well, we hope we're in better position to compete with the
horses at the top, but a lot can happen over the course of a
season," Cuban says. My, that's a measured response. For more,
let's go to that cocky firebrand Danny Manning, one of four new
additions to Dallas's 10-man rotation. "Of course we have
enough," says Manning, now with his sixth team in 14 years. "Now
it's a matter of showing it."

Among the things the Mavs will show is a deep bench. "Because of
our depth, I guarantee Michael Finley will not lead the league in
minutes played again," says coach Don Nelson. "Of course I said
that last year." Other strengths? Finley, Steve Nash and Dirk
Nowitzki are a Big Three as good as any since Bird, Parish and
McHale hung it up in Boston. The Mavs will play a blood-churning,
up-tempo style that will earn them fans in a league often bereft
of offensive movement. To take maximum advantage of the new
rules, they'll probably employ a variety of zones cooked up in
the Mad Nellie laboratory. And they'll have an energetic Cuban
hollering at the refs, dissing the other team and exhorting his
own charges from a courtside seat in the new American Airlines
Arena. (On second thought maybe the Mavs won't be so popular.)

Still, there's nothing to indicate that Cuban's Crusaders did
enough in the off-season to propel themselves past the
center-dominated powerhouses in the West. The way Nash sees it,
though, short of cloning Wilt Chamberlain, there's nothing they
could've done. "Nobody has centers like Tim Duncan and Shaquille
O'Neal," Nash says, "so what's the use of worrying about it? We
went out, made some changes, and we'll see if we can attack them
a different way."

Oh, the Mavs have ways. No player in recent history has improved
as quickly as the sweet-shooting Nowitzki, whose scoring average
has gone from 8.2 to 17.5 to 21.8. Finley has established himself
as an All-Star, with 20-plus-points-per-game averages in each of
the last four seasons. The energetic Nash, having listened to
Nelson's warnings that "you have to shoot more or you'll be
sitting," is among the league's elite point guards.

The trio is so good, and mentioned so often collectively, that
one wonders if Dallas suffers by not having a clear team leader.
Nash says, "It's our team, but if you have to pick one, it's
Michael's team." Finley demurs. Nelson says it's Nash's team
because he's the point guard. By the end of the season it might
well be Nowitzki's team; that's how good and versatile the
seven-foot German small forward has become.

The Big Three will also have plenty of help. Acquire
35-year-olds Manning and Tim Hardaway as starters, and you're
showing weakness; sign them to come off the bench, and you're
deepening your team considerably. Nelson plans to push the tempo
again (the Mavs were 35-11 when they scored 100 or more points
last season) by frequently going to a small team of Nash,
Hardaway, Finley, Nowitzki and either Juwan Howard or Manning.

In a season of change the Mavs would seem to have all kinds of
advantages: Low-post scoring will likely not be as important,
and Dallas doesn't have much of it anyway. Defensively, the
legality of doubling opposing big men even when they don't have
the ball would seem to enhance the importance of 7'6" Shawn
Bradley. Yes, all signs point to the Mavs being right there ...
but not exactly there. "I want to win it all every year," says
Cuban, "but if we don't, I'll try to fill those holes to get
there. Hey, Shaq won't play forever." That sounds nice, but just
to be sure, we'll check back later.


COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA ENTERTAINMENT IRON MIKE The 28-year-old Finley, who has twice led the league in minutes played, may get a breather now and then.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Mavericks

"It'll be interesting to see what Don Nelson does with the new
rules. In the past he always tried to outsmart people, establish
his reputation as a genius, but last season he got back to basics
and the Mavs were tough. Will the new rules tempt him to come up
with all sorts of new things? ... The Mavs have go-to guys at
almost every position and a great quarterback in Steve Nash. He's
the key. He pushes it all the time but makes great decisions on
the run. He can get into the middle, and he makes that in-between
shot. You have to contain him in the open court.... Their big
men--Juwan Howard and Dirk Nowitzki especially--can go out on the
perimeter, so you have to keep contact with them. The level that
Nowitzki jumped to is unbelievable.... If Shawn Bradley or Evan
Eschmeyer is in there, you don't have to double-team their
center, and that's a major thing. I think that's why Nellie will
use Howard a lot more at the five this season.... Michael Finley
presents big post-up problems. He likes to get the ball, in
isolation, at the elbow area, and he will find Nowitzki on the
perimeter if he's doubled.... Defensively they're not soft, even
Nowitzki. Finley can defend on the ball, Nowitzki's getting
better, Bradley's a giant. You'd think Nash would get
overpowered, but he keeps everybody in front of him.... Now, with
Tim Hardaway and Danny Manning available, these guys are going to
be real tough. Remember that Hardaway had his best days under
Nellie with Golden State. If the Mavs can get enough out of their
five position, they could challenge the Lakers.

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 53-29 (tied for second in Midwest)
Coach: Don Nelson (fifth season with Mavericks)

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Dirk Nowitzki 21.8 ppg 9.2 rpg 0.96 spg 47.4 FG% 38.7 3FG%
PF Juwan Howard 18.0 ppg 7.1 rpg 2.8 apg 0.93 spg 47.9 FG%
C Shawn Bradley 7.1 ppg 7.4 rpg 2.78 bpg 0.44 spg 49.0 FG%
SG Michael Finley 21.5 ppg 4.4 apg 5.2 rpg 1.44 spg 45.8 FG%
PG Steve Nash 15.6 ppg 7.3 apg 3.2 rpg 1.03 spg 48.7 FG%

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

G Tim Hardaway[1] 14.9 ppg 6.3 apg 1.17 spg 39.2 FG% 36.6 3FG%
F Danny Manning[1] 7.4 ppg 2.6 rpg 1.1 apg 0.57 spg 49.4 FG%
G Greg Buckner 6.2 ppg 4.2 rpg 1.3 apg 0.89 spg 43.8 FG%
G-F Adrian Griffin[1]2.1 ppg 2.0 rpg 0.6 apg 0.41 spg 34.0 FG%
C Evan Eschmeyer[1] 3.4 ppg 4.9 rpg 0.78 bpg 46.0 FG% 65.7 FT%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

"Remember, Hardaway had his best days under Nellie with Golden