January 21, 2012

The Dallas Mavericks are the reigning NBA champions, one of the leagues most successful teams of the past decade. For reasons that may be unexplainable, though, theyve been unable to overcome at least one major stumbling block in recent seasons. Over the past half-decade, the Mavericks have gone a total of 0-11 in games played in New Orleans. That winless stretch includes three contests during the 2008 Western Conference playoffs, when the Hornets eliminated the Mavericks four games to one in a first-round series.

Dallas most recent road victory in the Crescent City took place on Dec. 16, 2006. Since the Hornets full-time return to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season, the Hornets have gone 2-0 at home against the Mavs in each of the past four regular seasons. In another example of the misfortune that has plagued Dallas during its visits to the Big Easy, the Hornets defeated the Mavs here twice last season by a grand total of just three points. In the latter matchup, New Orleans trailed Dallas by two points as time ticked down, but Jarrett Jack drew a three-shot foul while firing from beyond the arc, then drained all three free throws. The Hornets held on for a dramatic 93-92 victory.

For the Hornets to extend their lengthy streak of homecourt success against the Mavericks, theyll need to perform much better offensively than they did on Jan. 7, a 96-81 loss at Dallas. The Mavericks grabbed a 52-41 halftime advantage and closed out a relatively comfortable victory in the second half. Dallas used an exceptionally balanced performance to beat its Southwest Division counterpart, with six different players notching double-digit points. Vince Carter and Ian Mahinmi paced the Mavs with 13 points apiece. Jack topped the Hornets with 15 points.

Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Jarrett Jack vs. Jason Kidd
The Mavericks protested vehemently last March 9, when Jack drew a foul against Kidd on a three-point attempt that ultimately swung the game in the Hornets favor. Although not a direct result of the play, the NBA has changed its interpretation of similar shooting fouls this season, not granting free throws as frequently in that situation. Jack is one of the leagues most effective practitioners of drawing body contact by getting his defender to jump after a deceptive pump fake.


Most defending NBA champions do everything in their power to return the same cast of characters who led them to postseason glory. Then theres the Dallas Mavericks, who bear only a partial resemblance to the 2010-11 squad that upset the star-studded Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Sure, Finals MVP and longtime franchise player Dirk Nowitzki is back, as are Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, but a significant chunk of the title-winning roster has departed. Gone are key members such as starting center Tyson Chandler, sparkplug guard J.J. Barea and starting shooting guard/solid defender DeShawn Stevenson. Perhaps largely as a result of the roster changes, the Mavericks title defense began slowly this season, including an 0-3 start that featured one-sided home defeats to Miami and Denver. After dropping to 3-5 overall, however, the Mavericks reeled off five straight victories, a stretch that began with a 96-81 win against the Hornets in Texas. Saturdays visit to New Orleans is the capper of a challenging four-game road trip that commenced with a loss on the Lakers home floor Monday. Dallas also faced the Clippers and Jazz earlier this week.

Whats new
The defections of Chandler, Barea and Stevenson created holes at several positions for the Mavericks, who acted quickly in December to retool their roster. Dallas traded for forward Lamar Odom, who was coming off an outstanding season as a bench catalyst with the Lakers. The Mavericks also added veteran swingman Vince Carter, who at 34 is approaching the twilight of his career but managed to throw down one of his trademark slams during the prior Mavericks-Hornets matchup on Jan. 7. Another valuable Dallas addition was hard-nosed combo guard Delonte West, who has been a steady contributor at both ends of the floor throughout his NBA career. With Brendan Haywood moving into the starting lineup to replace Chandler at center, the Mavericks also needed to shore up their frontcourt depth, which led to the acquisitions of big men Brandan Wright, Sean Williams and Yi Jianlian.

Mavericks star
After receiving criticism from some NBA analysts for the Mavericks lack of postseason success in recent years, Nowitzki earned his rightful place among the games premier players by leading his club to its first-ever championship in 2011. Facing the highly-touted Heat in the NBA Finals, Nowitzki consistently delivered in the clutch, sparking Dallas to come-from-behind victories by scoring the most critical baskets of the series. The native of Germany is off to a sluggish start in 2011-12, averaging just 17.9 points through the first 14 games of the regular season (hes averaged at least 21.8 points per game every season since 2000-01).

Maverick on the rise
The San Antonio Spurs are highly-regarded throughout the NBA for their ability to unearth little-known gems in the draft. They may have done it again with fourth-year forward Ian Mahinmi, although the Spurs in-state rivals are the ones benefiting. On an ultra-deep San Antonio club, Mahinmi appeared in a total of just 32 games over the first two seasons of his NBA career, but hes gotten a much great opportunity to play with Dallas. The 28th pick of the 2005 draft, the native of France was Dallas fifth-leading scorer and third-best rebounder through the initial three weeks of the current season.

On the sideline
Whether its been his prior stops in Detroit and Indiana, or his current post with Dallas, Rick Carlisle is a consistent winner. Now in his 10th overall season as an NBA head coach, Carlisle has only finished with a losing record once (in 2006-07 with the Pacers). Hes won 50-plus games six times, culminating with a 57-25 mark in 2010-11 that preceded the Mavericks run to the NBA championship. As a player, Carlisle played a total of five seasons in the late 1980s with Boston, New York and New Jersey.

Did you know?
The Mavericks became the NBAs 23rd franchise when Dallas was granted an expansion franchise that began play in the 1980-81 season. The Mavs were one of the leagues worst teams throughout the 1990s, but have been one of the best since then. Dallas has won 50 or more games every season since 2000-01, a stretch that coincides with the emergence of Nowitzki as a bona fide star.

Players the Mavericks want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Mavericks need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through Jan. 17)
Arguably the greatest-shooting 7-footer in NBA history.
Quick penetrator, especially on drives to his right.
Odd-looking shooting form, but ball usually goes in.
Name Career three-point percentage (through Jan. 17)
Has drained 100-plus made threes for 11 straight seasons.
Relied more heavily on treys early in his career but still dangerous.
Fast start this season, at 44.4 percent through mid-January.

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