- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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A combination of Bikram yoga, early morning track workouts and the copious amounts of drilling in the gym with longtime NBA guard John Lucas has helped keep the Mavericks' Mike James far fitter than most 37-year-olds.
And playing his way into the starting lineup for a team in a full-fledged playoff race has convinced James that he can play at the highest level for another season or two.
"My plan is to play two more years and my hope is to be able to finish my career here in Dallas playing for Rick, Donnie and Mark and with Dirk," James said, referring to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, team president Donnie Nelson, owner Mark Cuban and star forward Dirk Nowitzki.
"If there's one thing my career has taught me, it's (that) what I hope and what happens are sometimes two different things. But this experience since I've been here has made everything I've gone through extremely worth it. Now we just got to make these playoffs."
The Mavericks became James' 11th NBA stop in early January when he was called up from Dallas' D-League affiliate in nearby Frisco and signed to the first of two 10-day contracts. Well aware of the Mavs' seasonlong struggles finding consistency from their point guards, James joined the Texas Legends with the intent of convincing Dallas that he could still contribute. One game with the Legends did the trick, with James gradually working his way into the starting lineup by early March.
The move partly stems from Carlisle's belief that projected starter Darren Collison is more effective coming off the bench, but there's no denying the impact of the switch: Dallas is 10-4 with James starting.
Despite appearing in a mere 15 NBA games over the previous three seasons, James averaged 9.2 points and 4.7 assists in 26.4 minutes per game in March and shot 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.
"I said to my agent (Bernie Lee) the other day, if everything that happened to this point in my career happened to bring me to play for Rick at this stage of my life to prepare me for this, then it's been worth it," James said.
"I'm in the middle of this right now and all that matters to me is making the playoffs. I want this so bad, I can't express it. But in the summer when I take a step back and look at it, I think I'll be able to appreciate it more, the fact that I fought really hard to be a part of this team."
James has a natural bond with fellow vets Elton Brand and Vince Carter -- referring to Carter as his welcoming committee when he first got to town -- but likewise has a lot to say about playing with Nowitzki, who didn't do too badly in March, either.
Dirk's numbers for the month: 20.0 points per game on .548 shooting from the floor and .468 shooting on 3s.
"Being that I've been so many places and played with so many quote-unquote superstars, I think I have a pretty good handle on (that description)," James said. "And Dirk is the best I've ever played with or been around.
"He's hard-working, humble, intelligent and doesn’t miss anything. On off days, he's in the weight room or in the pool. He's so intelligent and driven to know his body and what he needs to do to get ready. I wasn’t here when he was hurt and I know it's been a challenge for him, but over the last few weeks, day by day, you can see his work paying off."