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Monday, October 26, 2009
Howard's ankle, travel among worries

By Tim MacMahon

DALLAS -- A season ago, the Dallas Mavericks became the first team in NBA history to win 50 games after stumbling to a 2-7 start.

They would rather not repeat the feat.

There are reasons the Mavericks might stub their toes out of the gates again. Start with Josh Howard's surgically repaired left ankle, which will keep him out of Tuesday night's opener against the Washington Wizards and possibly several more games. The travel itinerary, with seven of the first 11 games on the road, isn't ideal, either.

But coach Rick Carlisle expects to see results, not hear excuses.

"It's a team that we feel is better than last year," Carlisle said. "Now we've got to go out and prove it."

It took some time for the Mavericks and Carlisle to become comfortable with each other in his first season as the coach in Dallas. That won't be an issue this season.

The Mavericks kept their core intact because they wanted to build on last season. That's why re-signing point guard Jason Kidd, whom Carlisle handed the keys to the offense in the middle of the season, was a must. When transition is talked about at the American Airlines Center these days, it's referring to running the fast break, not major changes for a franchise that advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since its 2006 NBA Finals appearance.

Fit was considered carefully with the key roster acquisitions. The biggest move the Mavs made this summer was a sign-and-trade that brought forward Shawn Marion to Dallas. He's a four-time All-Star only a few seasons removed from being a 20-10 guy, but he's comfortable as a complementary piece on a talented team.

"I'm just trying to fill voids, those little spaces," Marion said. "Whatever I can do to complete this team is what I'm trying to do."

Marion will be the solution to a lot of the Mavs' defensive problems and will probably be one of their top three or four scorers most nights. And he has a low-maintenance offensive game, meaning he'll be able to produce without the Mavs running many plays for him. The majority of his buckets will come on fast breaks, putbacks and cuts to the basket when he takes advantage of a defense paying too much attention to Dirk Nowitzki or Jason Terry.

A strained right calf limited Marion to three preseason games, and he's right below Howard on the list of early-season health concerns. But Marion's remarkable efficiency and energy in his preseason appearances were indicative of how immediate an impact he can make.

"He's a guy that we've been missing here for the last two or three years," Terry said. "He's an athletic, versatile guy that you don't need to run a play for offensively for him to get his numbers, and defensively he is your lockdown guy that's going to get after it every night."

With Howard still hobbled, Marion is that much more important to a team that doesn't want to spend another regular season digging out of a hole.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for E-mail