PROJECTED STARTINGFIVE with 2006-07 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS:G-F Jerry Stackhouse, G-F Trenton Hassell*, C DeSagana Diop, G-F Eddie Jones, FNick Fazekas (R) *New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 67-15 (1stin West) Points scored: 100.0 (9th in NBA) Points allowed: 92.8 (4th) Coach:Avery Johnson (fourth season with Mavericks)
After his teamendured the worst meltdown in NBA playoff history, a first-round loss to theeighth-seeded Warriors, Dirk Nowitzki needed to get far, far away. So in May hetook an unscheduled trip Down Under. For five weeks he and his longtime coachand mentor, Holger Geschwindner, backpacked through Australia, New Zealand andFiji, taking in the sights, big and small. But there was one thing thatNowitzki did not see: an entire NBA playoff game. "I saw one half of oneFinals game," he recalls. "I couldn't watch. Watching other teams inthe playoffs was frustrating to me."
Relaxed, refreshedand rededicated ("The trip really got me excited about basketballagain," he says), Nowitzki returned to Dallas prepared to make sure thatthe Mavericks don't go under for a third straight year. In 2006 they blew a 2-0lead over the Heat in the Finals, and last season--after winning 67 games, tiedfor the sixth highest total in league history--they imploded against theWarriors, with Nowitzki, the regular-season MVP, scoring just eight points inthe decisive Game¬†6.
For its part, thefront office resisted the natural inclination to overhaul the team, leaving theburden of delivering the franchise's first title on Nowitzki's shoulders. Inthe off-season coach Avery Johnson told Nowitzki, 29, that he needs to become abetter passer, offensive rebounder and defender. And although point guard DevinHarris was given a five-year contract extension in September and Josh Howardcontinues to ascend the ranks of the league's elite small forwards, it wasNowitzki whom Johnson asked to take on more of a leadership role, aresponsibility the laid-back German hasn't always fully accepted.
So will thisfinally 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 thatthey need a new point guard instead of Devin¬†Harris, but I don't thinkthat's the issue. I think they need another half-court finisher up front toplay in the low post, even if just for a few minutes a game--a mobile powerforward who can play the high-low game with Dirk¬†Nowitzki and help steadytheir half-court offense. Right now they struggle in the half-court when theyhave to play there on a consistent basis. . . . I see Josh¬†Howard as atrue star in the league who is going to keep improving. He plays both ends ofthe floor, he's hard to guard, and he can defend three and sometimes fourpositions. . . . Jerry¬†Stackhouse has at least one more really good yearin him. He seems charged up to be in that organization--he even shared the balla 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 thanGreg Buckner would have. And if Devean¬†George is healthy this year, thatcould be another area of improvement.
In each of AveryJohnson's two full seasons as coach, the Mavs have lowered the franchise recordfor points allowed. Last season Dallas gave up 92.8 points per game, afterallowing 93.1 a year earlier.
GLENN JAMES/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Nowitzki and his mates have a single goal: winning it all.