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Monday, December 19, 2011
Countdown: Forward march

By Jeff Caplan

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom and Dirk Nowitzki form the best forward group in the league, and if you look around, it's hard to argue.

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Collectively, they own four championships, 14 All-Star appearances, one league MVP, one Finals MVP and one Sixth Man of the Year award. What really stands out and makes the three a lethal combination for the Dallas Mavericks this season is that all three bring vastly different styles and skills.

The 6-foot-7 Marion can run the floor, post up and rebound at both ends. The 6-foot-10 Odom can handle the ball like few big men and brings the added dimension of being able to initiate the offense. He doesn't need plays called for him to be a central figure in the offense. He can step out and bury the 3-pointer as effectively as a dip of the shoulder and drive.

As for the 7-foot Nowitzki, well, entering his 14th season, there's little need to list his litany of devastating powers.

Combined, the three averaged 49.9 points, 22.6 rebounds and 7.0 assists a game last season.

The forward position should be one of greater strength than last season, when small forward beyond Marion became a revolving door after Caron Butler's New Year's Day knee injury took him out for the rest of the season. Marion eventually became the full-time starter after Sasha Pavlovic played out two 10-day contracts and Peja Stojakovic hurt his neck.

Carlisle holds his plans close to the vest, but Marion would seem the likely candidate to remain a starter with Odom coming off the bench to defend his sixth man title won last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. A glimpse at both forward positions:

Small forward: The position belongs to Marion and Odom now that youngster Corey Brewer is playing for the Denver Nuggets. Carlisle will likely approach the tandem like he did with Marion and Butler before the injury, managing their minutes and going with the hot hand in the fourth quarter or whichever matchup is best suited for the situation. If needed, the 6-6 Vince Carter can slide over.

Power forward: A year ago, Marion was the de facto backup to Nowitzki, and he did a fine job of playing the bigger position. This season, Odom might find himself doing the switch more than Marion. Dallas also acquired Brandan Wright, a former lottery pick who hasn't lived up to that status in his brief career and, of course, there is fan favorite Brian Cardinal, who will always play sturdy defense, take and give a hard foul and nail a corner 3-pointer.