It was one of those shots kids dream of making when they’re playing basketball in their driveways.
Two seconds left… Catch the ball at three-quarters court… Launch… Buzzer… Swish! The crowd goes wild.
That was exactly what Dallas Mavericks forward Josh Howard treated his fans to just before half time of their recent win over the Phoenix Suns. It was gut-check time for the Mavs, who allowed the Suns to hang around the playoff picture for far too long.
Their offensive explosion in the first half of the game eclipsed any hope the Suns might have had of making some kind of miracle comeback. Josh’s three, which Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle called “magical,” gave the Mavs 81 points at the half.
“I told our guys before the game that there’s no other team in this league that’s gone through the highs that we’ve gone through, the lows, the winning streaks, the losing streaks, the great wins, the tough losses… All that stuff really prepares you to play a game like (Phoenix),” said Carlisle. “When you’ve got great energy going into it and the crown is in a frenzy, I don’t know how to explain it, but things like that happen. Magical things can happen. We’re looking to ride the wave here. We’ve got a chance to build some momentum, we’ve got a chance to get healthier, and we feel like we’re becoming a more dangerous team every day.”
“That’s the kind of night you have sometimes,” said Dirk Nowitzki of Howard’s big shot. “We’ve been on both ends before, where it feels like nothing goes in and the other team has it rolling and shots go in that usually don’t. I think if you’ve been in this league for a while you’ve been on both sides.”
The focus of the game, which Dallas won 141-116 was largely on Jason Kidd. His 20 assists moved him past Magic Johnson on the all-time assist list. But after the game everyone was talking about how important Josh is to the team. His 24 points in 28 minutes were every bit as key as Kidd’s assists.
“Josh is big for us, we’ve said it all season long,” says Nowitzki. “His ability to pass and shoot, slash and be active, his ability to crate his own shot on offense takes a lot of pressure off of me and Jet. We all know what he can do on the boards and defensively if he’s engaged in the game. He can be one of the best defenders out there because he’s long and he’s active. Hopefully his ankle responds the right way, but with him we have to take it one game at a time right now. We definitely need him out there. We saw it Friday when we lost to Memphis, if he would have played we wouldn’t have lost the game.”
Kidd points out that while Josh’s scoring is nice, his defense is really the key for Dallas.
“We can talk about Josh and his offense, but I think he’s getting his hands on balls, being effective, and getting rebounds on the defensive end, which we need. Offensively he’s a talent and can score with the best of them. But defensively he’s huge for us. We just need him to get healthy, get better, and push forward for these last few games so we can have him out there on the floor.”
“The lift that he gives us just by being on the court is something that’s hard to quantify,” adds Carlisle. “You can add up the points, you can count up the charges he takes, but he brings a bounce to our team and he juices up our fans. He makes our whole situation significantly better.”
The Mavericks are going to need Josh to inspire as much bounce as he can tonight. They might even need another magical shot. Tonight is the Mavericks’ big chance to get out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ sights as they begin to look at playoff match-ups. A win tonight moves them into a tie with the Jazz for the seventh seed in the West.
Nothing would be more magical than avoiding L.A. in the first round.