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December 06, 2001

Mavs turn up the heat
By Dan Patrick

The Dallas Mavericks are hot right now, with two spectacular last-minute victories in the last week. But I have liked this team for a while. And I like their chances of having more success than any other previous Mavericks team.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have a good shot at the playoffs ths year.

It starts with the players, of course. I am a big Michael Finley fan, who should be an All-Star for the second time. Steve Nash's emergence can be traced to coach Don Nelson and his suggestion that Nash think more about his offense.

And finally, we understand why Rick Pitino wanted Dirk Nowitzki in the draft. He's a 7-footer whose numbers after three years could be mentioned in the same breath as Larry Bird's -- as blasphemous as that may sound to NBA fans.

The Mavericks, despite those three stars, will always struggle for recognition. In Dallas, you're in the shadow of the Stanley Cup championship hockey team, the Stars. You've always got the Cowboys to fight with for local ink, even in the offseason.

And now A-Rod comes to town.

Come to think of it, the Mavericks are probably more known, and appreciated, outside of Dallas. But on the national scene, they're overshadowed by their owner. Mark Cuban and his fines make more headlines than the team. He seems to be the focal point of the team. He may not realize this, but he's detracting from his team and the attention they should be receiving. Finley and Nowitzki are legitimate All-Stars.

What will hold them back for now is the lack of a big man. Shawn Bradley has been a disappointment. Christian Laettner is a nice addition to the team but not at center, where he has logged quite a bit of time. He can't play center, especially in the West where you have to play Shaq and David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Lack of depth will also hurt this team. Still, they do have three quality stars with Nash, Nowitzki and Finley and they're hanging in the race in the Midwest Division.

The Mavericks are overshadowed by their owner on the national scene. Mark Cuban and his fines make more headlines than the team.

The signs are there for improvement, though. The big three plus Courtney Alexander and Howard Eisley form the nucleus of a fun and interesting team. Now is a key time for the Dallas Mavericks because the franchise has been this close to glory before.

The Mavericks were the darlings of the NBA several years ago when they had Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn. But that team broke up before it really did anything memorable. The Mavs have a couple of rare, fruitful drafts and get some good players together, but they end up trading them.

Maybe they'll get it right this time. Cuban must realize that he can't be the focal point of this team for the long-term. Eventually, his antics will lose whatever charms they may have now and people will just dismiss him.

He's an owner who wants to be seen. He spent the money and can behave any way he wants. Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder do the same thing. Cuban is having fun with it now. So what if he riles the league? He'll get serious soon enough.

Mark Cuban will do the right things in Dallas. He's in it for the long-term. He has to be. Because when you think about it, what other team could Mark Cuban own besides the Mavericks?

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