- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

DALLAS — Being in the NBA Finals makes everything worthwhile for Jerry Stackhouse. The 1-0 series lead heading into tonight’s game makes it even sweeter.

In the Dallas Mavericks’ 90-80 win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 on Thursday night, Dallas’ forward combination of Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard shot 7-for-28 — numbers that usually don’t equal a Mavericks victory.

So as he has done all season, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson turned to Stackhouse — a two-time All-Star and one-time Washington Wizards player — for a spark.

And despite taking a crushing elbow from massive Miami center Shaquille O’Neal that required him to receive three stitches on the bridge of his nose, Stackhouse totaled 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a block in the win.

This is what the Mavericks have come to expect from Stackhouse all season, and those expectations won’t change any time soon.

And while some are surprised that Stackhouse — who once averaged 29.8 points a game for the Detroit Pistons — has accepted the role of a reserve with aplomb, Stackhouse isn’t.

“I think everything that I’ve been through up until this point has helped me to appreciate this situation and this stage,” he said. “It gets no better than this. It gets no better than the NBA Finals, getting to perform and hopefully win four games and win a championship. That says it all.”

Stackhouse’s career began in Philadelphia in 1995 when the 76ers made him the fourth overall pick in the draft.

Not long after he was traded to Detroit, Philadelphia made a run to the NBA Finals in 2001. The same turn of events happened with the Pistons, who traded him to the Wizards for Richard Hamilton. Two years later, the Pistons were celebrating a championship over the Los Angeles Lakers.

That’s why when Stackhouse received a call from former Dallas coach Don Nelson during the summer of 2004 and asked if he would join the Mavericks as their sixth man, Stackhouse — a career starter — leapt at the chance. The Wizards traded Stackhouse, Devin Harris and Christian Laettner to Dallas for Antawn Jamison.

“I just knew that realistically, the best chance I had at winning a championship wasn’t great playing on teams where I had to go out and score 30 points,” the 31-year-old Stackhouse said. “If you look at some of the teams that I was on you would say I needed to score 30.

‘But with Dirk we had a 25-point scorer, and the team was very deep. But I don’t take all the credit — I can’t. The reason we’re here is that guys have stepped up all year long at key times.”

Stackhouse’s maturity has helped him make a seamless transition from starter to reserve and allowed the Mavericks to be just three wins from claiming an NBA title.

It also has helped Howard emerge as a star. The 29th pick in the 2003 draft, Howard averaged 16.4 points a game in the conference semifinals against San Antonio and 19.3 in the Western Conference finals against Phoenix.

Howard grew up in North Carolina, where he says he idolized Stackhouse, a high school legend there. At first, he didn’t know how Stackhouse’s addition to the team would go. But after two years, those questions are gone.

“He’s proven that he’s a leader here, just like he’s done over his whole career,” said Howard, 26. “He’s set an example from the start. He wants to win a championship and he’s going to do whatever it takes for us to all get there.”

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