- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban continues to remake his roster with mediocre talent, continually proving two things:

1. Dirk Nowitzki is an elite player.

2. Avery Johnson knows exactly what he is doing.

During the past three offseasons, Cuban has dispatched league MVP Steve Nash and All-Stars Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel, Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker.

Meanwhile, Dallas has added Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse.

The result: The Mavericks are 37-10 — a 65-win pace — and tied for the best record in the Western Conference with the San Antonio Spurs. They have won 11 consecutive games, the last four with Josh Howard as their leading scorer.

The Mavericks are set to win 50 games for a sixth consecutive season, and the only constant during that time has been Nowitzki, who has averaged 24 points and 9.4 rebounds the past six seasons.

The only other players to lead their teams to 50 wins each of the past five seasons are Tim Duncan (Spurs), Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers and Heat) and Nash (Mavericks and Suns).

The standard party line has been that Johnson, in his second year, emphasizes defense more than Don Nelson, who preferred a shoot-first, ask-questions-later approach.

It’s a nice theory, but while the Mavericks do play a more deliberate pace, they still score 108.8 points per 100 possessions, second only to the Detroit Pistons. Defensively, they give up 101.3 points per 100 possessions — 13th in the league.

But their offense is often hard to watch. The Mavericks have a bunch of dribble-happy, one-on-one players — Nowitzki, Terry, Howard and Marquis Daniels — who find a way to score. They are last in the league with 17.8 assists a game.

But Johnson, who is 53-12 (.815) since taking over for Nelson late last season, knows how to run a team. He’s direct and honest. He doesn’t let them get too full of themselves. He doesn’t let them accumulate losing streaks or too many losses to bad teams.

Nowitzki, Johnson and the Mavericks still have plenty to prove in the playoffs. Until then, the rest of the league will try to figure out how they keep winning.

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