It wasn't long ago that the entries for May and June on Juwan Howard
's basketball itinerary were left blank. But thanks to the events of February 22, the veteran forward now has what he hopes will be a full schedule of activities as the calendar pages turn. Now wearing the uniform of the Dallas Mavericks, Howard has found himself dropped directly into the thick of a playoff race.
Juwan Howard has lifted his game in Dallas, and Dallas has lifted Howard's spirits.
Sam Forencich/NBAE Photos
Since being acquired by the Mavericks from the Washington Wizards in an eight-player trade, Howard has made a smooth transition, blending versatility and unselfish attitude into a team enjoying its finest season in more than a decade. His presence in the lineup has taken pressure off Michael Finley
and Dirk Nowitzki
and made Dallas even tougher to match up against defensively.
"He give us another dimension, a low-post guy who stays around the basket," point guard Steve Nash
told the Dallas Morning News
. "That's great for the balance of our team. He's very complementary to our team."
Howard's performance remained steady, if not spectacular in Washington, and when the opportunity arose to make the trade, Dallas did not hesitate.
In 27 games with the Mavericks, Howard has averaged 18.0 points and 7.3 rebounds as Dallas has gone 19-8 and gained ground in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
"It's fun to be in a playoff atmosphere," Howard said. "This is a first-class organization that wants to win. To be a piece of that puzzle is an exciting opportunity for me."
Howard is no stranger to sacrificing personal success. In college, he shared the spotlight at the University of Michigan, playing alongside Chris Webber
and Jalen Rose
on the way to making two Final Four appearances. He and Webber also shared top billing in Washington before Webber was traded to Sacramento in the spring of 1998.
"I've always been a team player," Howard said. "And now I'm happy to be a part of a team in the midst of a playoff race. This is a new season for me."
Howard's transition has been helped by the presence of Finley, a fellow Chicago native. The two have known each other since high school and work out together during the offseason -- which the Mavericks hope doesn't begin for a while.
"Juwan is not a selfish guy," Finley said. "He knows coming into this, we've already got something established. His role on this team won't be to just put the ball in the bucket. He's a professional and he'll just fit in."
Rob Reheuser is a member of the NBA Editorial Staff.