At the break the Mavericks ranked an uncharacteristically high fourth in the West in field-goal-percentage defense (43.7), and Dirk Nowitzki credits that to the improved play of center Erick Dampier (right). "I think he kind of coasted through November and December, wasn't really being aggressive," says Nowitzki. "But now he's attacking all the penetrations, he's blocking shots, he's being active." So what caused the turnaround? "I don't know what changed," says Nowitzki. "I know the General [assistant coach Avery Johnson] and [owner Mark] Cuban talked to him a lot. I've always said that if Damp is active on both ends of the floor, we're a different animal. If he keeps that up in the second half of the season, I think we're really going to make a good run at [the Finals]."
TONY GUTIERREZ/AP (DAMPIER)