August 24, 2004
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Eduardo Najera :: Workman's Comp
Eduardo Najera :: Workman's Comp

Playing the tough-guy reserve role on the go-go Dallas Mavericks is kind of like being the burly henchman in a James Bond flick. You do all the dirty work, and everybody else gets the chicas.

So, while floppy-haired Stevie, stoic Dirk, smooth Findog and Nick the Quick fill it up, Eduardo Najera works at ground level. He boards, sets bone-crunching picks and defends against rivals of all sizes. And the Mavs love it.

When your 7-6 center has been posterized so many times he should be getting royalties, you need somebody to bang with the League’s best power forwards. Somebody who can step up when rivals assault the hoop. Somebody like Najera.

Najera isn’t a bully, just a 6-8, 235-pound bundle of muscle and energy who packs more physical play into his 23 minutes a night than some Euroforwards put into a whole season. There isn’t much finesse in the Najera package, and that’s just fine. When the Mavs were down big in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio, Najera’s fourth-quarter dervish act helped spark the comeback. That’s how he operates. From the time he enters the game, his tachometer is in the red. Najera loves to fill the lanes on the break, and something about the sight of him chugging on the wing seems to discourage opponents from taking a charge.

That’s the way it’s always been for Najera. Even when he was at Oklahoma, he was a banger. Sure, he averaged 15.5 ppg as a junior and 18.4 ppg as a senior, but those came mostly in the paint. Coach Nellie may want his players to shoot, but he won’t be encouraging Najera to fire it up from long range too often. He has other things to do. Najera missed nearly half of the ’02-03 season with a knee injury, and his absence just happened to coincide with the Mavericks’ midseason defensive swoon, when that early zone success started to evaporate. Hmmmm. When he came back, Dallas became a tougher team.

Of course, everything is relative. When your owner is more rugged than some of your starters, it can be a problem.

And how about that Najera bust-out in the playoffs? OK, “bust-out” for him. Still, his 8.4 ppg against Portland in that frightening first-round series was about two points a game more than the 6.7 he averaged for the season. He may crack the double-figure barrier some season, but that won’t matter to Dallas. As long as he keeps playing his role, everybody wins.

—MICHAEL BRADLEY


 


   
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