SOMETIMES TEAMWORKgets its due: Four Pistons were picked to be All-Stars. Then there are theMavericks, who have only one player going to Houston (you might have heard ofhim, big blond German guy, deadly from the perimeter) despite their 39-11record at week's end, third best in the league. This is what happens when ateam relies on defense, a deep bench and a disciplined, share-the-wealthsystem--and it hasn't gone to the Finals the last two years.
No playerexemplifies Dallas's rough-hewn, post-Nellie ethos better than third-yearswingman Josh Howard. Long and spindly at 6'7" and 210 pounds, Howard wasdrafted 29th out of Wake Forest for his D, which earned him instant minutesunder Don Nelson because, well, no one else on the team could defend. Sincethen, however, Howard has evolved into a tough cover himself; through Sunday hewas averaging 15.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals. His versatility iscrucial to the Mavs' success because Nelson's successor, Avery Johnson, alwayswants to have at least two scorers (such as Dirk Nowitzki and point guard JasonTerry) and two stoppers (such as center DeSagana Diop and shooting guard AdrianGriffin) on the floor; Howard essentially gives Dallas an extra contributor atboth ends. "Josh is our wild card," says assistant coach Del Harris."He might get 15 rebounds or 30 points, he might get five steals or fiveassists, he might guard the other team's best two or three man."
Call him theMortar Mav: Howard fills in the cracks, doing whatever the team needs on anygiven night. (Other mortar types around the NBA include Shane Battier, TayshaunPrince, Luol Deng, Andre Iguadola and Shawn Marion.) For example, in a 112-76rout of the Heat last Thursday, Howard drove the lane and dunked, flew in fortwo putbacks, knocked down a three, initiated the offense, deflected passes (heleads the team in that category) and guarded Dwyane Wade. "Josh reallycomplements my game because in those areas where I'm not very good, he'sgreat," Nowitzki said after the game. "Slashing, getting offensiverebounds and tipping them in, tipping them out. Keeping the ballalive."
In the half-courtHoward's not a great passer or ball handler, but he's dangerous in post ups andoff the dribble. He's adept at runners and leaners; Harris thinks his floater,which he pushes up from the shoulder, like a waiter hoisting a tray, is secondonly to Steve Nash's. Howard's also a good enough shooter (38.6% on threes)that teams can't leave him, especially if he has his feet set. Howard's valueis quantifiable: At week's end the Mavs were 11-0 when he had a double doubleand 14-0 when he scored 20 or more points.
Despite Howard'ssuccess, many fans still mistake him for Dallas guard Marquis Daniels, or thinkthat Daniels is him, or that the two are twins, even though Daniels has grownout his hair into twiggy minidreads this season. The confusion stems from theirsimilar body types and penchant for wearing headbands. His solution: an alias."When people say, 'Do I know you?' I say I'm Mickey Anderson from Memphisand that I have a twin," says Howard. "That usually throws peopleoff." (Who is Mickey Anderson? Howard picked the name randomly, but hey,it's his alias.)
As for his styleof play, Howard likes to think of himself as a "firestarter." "I'mthat guy in the pickup game who will do anything," he says. "Guard thepoint, play in the post. I enjoy doing all those things. It's just how Iam."