Updated: Feb. 14, 2006, 7:31 PM ET

Very good 'General' impression

When I played with Mavericks coach Avery Johnson in San Antonio, there was no doubt who was the leader of our team. We called him the "Little General" for a reason. You could see back then that this guy was going to be a coach. I use to love watching Avery get in David Robinson's face and explain in no certain terms, "we need you 5-0."

Avery was ornery, but that was because he knew what he wanted and he had a vision of how it needed to be done. I can imagine that things are no different now.

You want to talk about a desire to succeed; this cat willed himself to be an NBA player. Avery went undrafted and started his career in the USBL in 1988. He then bounced around the league in Seattle, San Antonio, Denver, Houston, the list goes on. He definitely rented every where he played, but he would not let the league get the best of him.

He eventually won the battle by helping San Antonio win the championship in 1999. I realized just how passionate Avery was about winning when, on a fast break mind you, he stepped in front of Shaq and took a charge. He was risking life or limb for his teammates.

He's already won three Western Conference Coach of the Month awards. In his first full year of coaching, he's clearly a leading candidate for Coach of the Year honors, and set to direct the West squad in Sunday's All-Star Game. Boosted by a recent 13-game win streak, his team is tied with San Antonio for the West's best record, 40-11. The Mavs beat the Knicks, 100-72, on Monday.

As you look at teams out West, it's Johnson's Mavs who seem to be the team that has the best chance of challenging the Spurs for the Western Conference title. I know what you're thinking, "What about Phoenix when they get Amare Stoudemire back?" Do we really know how well Amare will be able to play when he returns? That leads me back to the Mavericks.

We know by looking at the Mavs roster (Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels and Devin Harris to name a few) that they can score.

This is a team that, over the past six seasons, has finished no worse than fourth in the NBA in scoring. So if they do not have a problem scoring, they obviously need to work on their defense. This is true, but I think Johnson has helped them work on some things that you will not find in the box score. This team has improved its standing in levels of leadership, desire and belief.

Johnson was the man for this job. Who better to help this team improve important intangible factors than their head coach? I can tell you from personal experience that this guy oozes those qualities from his pores.

Finally, if Avery didn't believe in himself, who would have? He is a perfect example of what can be accomplished if you put your mind to it. I know he helped me become a better player. I think Mark Cuban realized the possibilities when he promoted Avery to head coach towards the end of last season. It's amazing how things go full circle. Avery is now looked upon as the "Little General" once again.

ESPN Insider Will Perdue, who is on the call for this weekend's All-Star Game coverage on ESPN Radio, played 13 seasons in the NBA, including four in San Antonio (1995-'99)

• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: February 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12 | 13

Message From James: 'We Have To Grow Up'

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James takes it to San Antonio en route to a 101-87 win. Cleveland is 14-2 at home against teams over .500, and 5-5 against teams under .500. "We can't keep beating Phoenix, Detroit and San Antonio and then lose to sub-par teams," James said.

Not Too Giddy With Heat

Travis (D.C.): Hey Ric, With Dwyane Wade's performance last night do you believe that is what it is going to take out of him every game for the Heat to make the finals?

Ric Bucher: That and maybe more. It was a gutty win by the Heat in a season of precious few gutty performances. But I -- contrary to Hubie Brown -- look at the final possession differently. Brown said the Heat played it perfectly. I saw Tayshaun Prince with a wide-open 3 to win. If he buries that, the Heat are truly hurting right now. They dodged a bullet. Then again, maybe this is just the emotional lift they needed. We'll see. I'm not convinced they're going to be any better in April than they are right now.

Newman (Minneapolis): As a Wolves fan I am not impressed with the team's effort thus far. I don't blame KG. I don't blame Glen Taylor. I didn't blame Flip Saunders. And I don't blame Duane Casey. I blame KEVIN MCHALE! Is there any reason this guy should still have a job? The guy made one good decision. . .drafting KG and even that decision has been buried under a pile of moronic draft pics and stupid deals (including the Joe Smith debacle that cost the Wolves a bunch of 1st round picks). Your thoughts?

Ric Bucher: This is what you have to understand (sheesh, now I'm sounding like Hubie): when a GM makes moves that don't work out and he isn't fired, it's invariably because either the owner is pushing for those moves to be made or he's holding the GM on a tight financial leash. If you want to blame anyone, blame KG's contract. He makes a boatload of money, he does everything he can to earn it, but at the end of the day he needs a closer like Sam I Am or Steph to be a postseason factor. The same way Shaq has always needed a closer.

Read Ric Bucher's full chat Insider

News And Notes

First Sprints Leave Amaré 'Fatigued'
Amaré Stoudemire found a wall for his back and put hands to knees. His first day of sprints exhausted him enough to joke about taking an elevator rather than a short flight of stairs. "I'm pretty fatigued," Stoudemire said. "Overall, I feel pretty good. There's still a little discomfort. I'm just seeing what it takes to get back to 100 percent." -- Arizona Republic

Kaman's Look That Of A Winner For L.A.
Donning long blond wigs and fake beards, a handful of fans came to a recent Clipper game calling themselves "The Kamaniacs" and emulating their new hero Chris Kaman. The fans cheered every time Kaman touched the ball and had such an outrageous look to mimic him that it could be reasonable to make this conclusion: Not only has Kaman arrived in the NBA this season, but with hair that hasn't been cut in two years and a scraggly beard in perpetual need of a trim, some fans even view him as a cult figure. "I don't know what you're talking about," Kaman said. "I'm not in any cult. I don't know anybody that's in any cult." -- Long Beach Press-Telegram

Bosh Reminds Casey Of Garnett
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett dominated his counterpart Monday night. But Toronto's Chris Bosh will have better days in the future. Wolves coach Dwane Casey said Chris Bosh is a younger version of Kevin Garnett. ... As Casey pointed out before Minnesota's 98-94 loss to Toronto, they're both long, athletic power forwards who can shoot from the perimeter. "He was one of my favorites, back when I was in high school, back when I was really starting to get pretty serious about basketball," Bosh said of Garnett. "I guess you could say I kind of modeled my game after him." -- St. Paul Pioneer Press

Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider Insider

Motion: Bron's Mettle
See the leading Cav put on a demonstration against the visiting champs. Cleveland beat San Antonio, 101-87.

Topping The Champs

Buzz At The Buzzer, Again

Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
Hornets forward David West launches the winning basket, his third buzzer-beating game winner of the season. He nailed a 20-footer from the top of the key, giving the Hornets (28-23) a 97-96 win over the Wiz.

Extreme Behavior

Monday's Best
LeBron James, Cavs forward: The Spurs' hopes of a 10-game win streak were stopped by 'Bron. Dropped 44 points on 19-33 shooting. And the Quicken Qrowd gave him the M-V-P chant.


Monday's Worst
Tony Parker, Spurs guard: Um, seven turnovers. Four points. In 30 minutes? The Prince of the Paint ain't right. After going on "Oprah" with Eva, this is just the kind of night that leads to "Dr. Phil" appearances.


Quote of the Day
"Shocked? Everyone was shocked. You were shocked. I was shocked. He was shocked that it went in. It's hard to win or lose a game with 0.5 seconds left, but obviously it happened."

-- Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, whose 43-point night went for naught when an unlikely long-distance shooter, David West, put a charge into the Hornets with a winning shot.

-- Andrew Ayres

See how all 143 who played stacked up

Texas Toss-up

Rob (Dallas): John- Since the playoff format won't change, and the commish is too hardheaded, any chance we can break up the Southwest Division? Dallas is kinda close to Colorado. Put us in the Northwest Division. But seriously ... Do you think the Mavs can catch the Spurs for No. 1 seeding?

John Hollinger: Well, they are sort of in Northwestern Texas . . . at least compared to Houston. In all seriousness, I love the battle being waged right now between Dallas and SA for No. 1, and it's yet another reason that it's such a bummer to see them having to meet in the conference semis. Right now only one game separates them and they have the same number of home and road games left, so I'm not going to pretend to know which one will prevail. Next meeting: March 2 in San Antonio.

Read the entire John Hollinger chat Insider

Elias Says

David West hit another game-winning shot for the Hornets, the third time this season he's made the winning basket with fewer than 2 seconds remaining in the game. West is the only NBA player to do that at least three times this season.

Baron Davis, Pau Gasol and Mo Williams each have hit two game-winning shots with fewer than two seconds to go, with Gasol's second game-winner coming Monday against the Warriors.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Daily Dime Mailbag: Hawk Watchers
Several keen-eyed Daily Dime readers noted that the stoic "guy in the blue shirt" during Miami's celebration was in fact a former standout outfielder who smacked 438 homers and is knocking on Cooperstown's door (with no luck, yet).

That guy in the blue shirt is coincidentially Andre "The Hawk" Dawson. Those are the Florida Marlins' seats and he acts a special assistant for the team.
-- Les (Miami)

Let's face it Dime gang. DWade and the Heat were celebrating like they won Game 7 of the finals. This will not sit well with the Pistons and they will not forget that display come playoff time.
-- Jeff T (New York)

Wade and Shaq go off and play as good as they can and they only win by 2? That still tells you that this team is nowhere near the team of last year. Their biggest mistake was getting rid of Eddie Jones. If they play the Pistons in the playoffs it will go at most 6 games and the Pistons will win. Miami shot themselves in the foot in the offseason.
-- Jeremy (Grand Rapids, MI)



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