What hopes do all 16 teams have of hopping in the postseason driver's seat? Take a ride with NBA.com as we outline each team's Keys to Success.
For the Mavs to unlock the doors to a championship run, a combination of figures will likely do the cracking. Left 41 is Dirk Nowitzki
, who leads the team in scoring at 21.8 ppg and rebounding at 9.2 per game. Right 4 is Michael Finley
, a close second in scoring at 21.5 ppg and who can also hit the big shot in crunch time. Left 13 is Steve Nash
, the unselfish playmaker who now trusts his own shot and ranks second among point guards in field goal percentage (.487). Right 5 is Juwan Howard
, acquired at the trade deadline from the Washington Wizards, who has provided a solid, if not spectacular, presence in the paint for the Mavs.
Reserve Howard Eisley
may play a large role in stopping the Mavs first-round opponent, Utah. Eisley spent the last six years as John Stockton
's back-up and should know the Jazz bread and butter -- the pick and roll -- very well as he tries to defend it himself or impart his knowledge to his teammates.
KEY IN THE KEY:
No longer expected to revolutionize the game as predicted by some basketball pundits, but Shawn Bradley
has still continued to do the thing which he does best -- block shots. Leading the league in total number of rejections with 228, Bradley's 7-6 frame stands tall in the paint allowing his teammates to defend the perimeter more aggressively.
There's a place on the court called Nashville: the time and space where point guard Steve Nash finds would-be scorers while hovering in mid-air. Nash may look like he's out of control, but his steady command of the Dallas offense suggests otherwise.
Perhaps the fury has gone out of Mad Max's game, but Mavs opponents shouldn't count on it. Since his acquistion as a free agent on Feb. 28, Vernon Maxwell
, has seen just spot duty, but he has proven time and time again that the big games and the big shot are his Terrordome.
KEY LONG-RANGE GUNNER:
Dirk Nowitzki, with a name befitting a gun-slinger from Dallas, should be outlawed. How can an almost 7-foot player have such range? It is not that unusual for a "big man" to possess a good outside shot, however, Nowitzki may be the first with such dead-on accuracy from behind the three point arc.
KEY INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE:
KEY WIN/KEY VID: March 26 began with Mavs facing a mine-field of Western Conference powerhouses on a five-game road trip that included Utah, Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento and Houston. By night's end, the Mavs had side-stepped the Jazz with a dramatic 98-90 comeback victory. That win propelled the Mavs to a 4-1 record on that road trip and the push for positoning rather than merely being content with making the playoffs.
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Still in a giving mood on the day after Christmas, Michael Finley gave Seattle fits scoring 38 points on 16-22 shooting, grabbing nine rebounds, and handing out eight assists in the Mavs' 114-93 victory. Finley scored 27 in the first half and the Mavs coasted to the win, Head Coach Don Nelson's 945th career victory to place him third in NBA history.
THE KEY AFTER THREE:
The Triplets: After 11 years of not making the playoffs, which had been the longest absence for any team in the NBA, the Mavs led by Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki will try to bring the City of Dallas another championship like the football set (Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith).
Dallas is 35-9 when leading at the start of the second quarter, 43-5 at the start of the third and a league-high 46-2 at the start of the fourth.
This past season, Michael Finley played more minutes than any player in the NBA yet never seemed to tire.
Since coming over in the trade from the Wizards, Juwan Howard has been all that the Mavs could have asked for and more. Sort of like getting JuJu beans at the movies with your popcorn. Howard not only adds points, but gives the Mavs a presence down-low. He will also provide some playoff experience gained in '97 when Washington was swept by the Chicago Bulls.
Shawn Bradley's grandfather taught art classes in Germany and one of his pupils was Holger Geschwindner, Dirk Nowitzki's personal advisor and coach. Lessons on how to papier-mache in exchange for a future All-Star -- what a trade!