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Basketball

2011-12 Dallas Mavericks Preview

Pro basketball is a little different than the other major sports.

Ask any old time baseball fan to talk about the greatest hitter of all-time and one name will be at the top of most lists, Ted Williams. This despite the fact that "Teddy Ballgame" never captured a World Series championship.

Ask the Baby Boomers who the greatest player is and more often than not you will hear the name Barry Bonds, warts and all. Steroids, a surly personality and the lack of a championship are just white noise in the background.

Over in the NFL when you talk about pure passers, Dan Marino will get tabbed again and again even though the Pittsburgh native possesses none of the Lombardi Trophies that have made "The Steel City" famous.

Basketball? It's not that observers don't recognize the greatness of players like Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Patrick Ewing but the fact that they all lack hardware disqualifies them when people start handing out the mythical titles of "the greatest of all-time."

Dirk Nowitzki was more than happy to graduate from that club last June as he and the Dallas Mavericks finally got over the hump and brought the Larry O'Brien Trophy to North Texas when they topped LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

His reward?

Try and do it again without veteran contributors like Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic.

On paper the Mavs have actually improved their skill level, bringing in big man Lamar Odom and high-scoring swingman Vince Carter but this is a club that often won 50-plus games and came up short in the postseason until they acquired a few tough-minded defensive players like Chandler, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson.

2010-11 Results: 57-25, second in Southwest; Won NBA championship.

ADDITIONS: F Lamar Odom, G Vince Carter, G Delonte West, F Brandan Wright

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Jason Kidd SG- Vince Carter SF- Shawn Marion PF- Dirk Nowitzki C- Brendan Haywood

KEY RESERVES: G Jason Terry, F Lamar Odom, G Rodrigue Beaubois, C Ian Mahinmi, G Delonte West

FRONTCOURT: Nowitzki was unquestionably the best player in the postseason last year and swiped the mantle of best closer as well. His rainbow fadeaway is unstoppable at times and made Charles Barkley gush "Nobody can guard that guy." His coach, Rick Carlisle, even called him one of the 10 greatest players ever. With his terrific shooting range and basketball smarts, the bread and butter of Nowitzki's game has always been the ability to use his 7- foot, 245-pound frame to overmatch defenders. Never a top-tier on-ball defender. Nowitzki has also developed into a solid help defender and is much tougher these days.

The aging Shawn Marion remains a tireless defender and solid, albeit unorthodox, offensive player.

"Shawn is a guy that has had such an underrated career," Carlisle said. "If you look at his stats for his career, you know, he's top five in almost every Phoenix Suns category. He's been a franchise type player for a lot of years.

Brendan Haywood takes over in the middle for Chandler and is a big body with impressive length but just isn't as tough at Chandler and doesn't bring the same type of intimidation on a nightly basis. Haywood also tends to struggle with foul trouble and has always been inconsistent. The lengthy Odom will also get plenty of minutes in the pivot.

BACKCOURT: The ageless Jason Kidd is back for another year running the point, The future Hall Of Famer is a true quarterback who thinks pass first and excels in finding scorers in the spots they like. He is, however, lacking quickness at this stage, although his hands at the defensive end may be the best in the game.

"He's one of our superstars. It's as simple as that," Carlisle said when talking about Kidd. "When he's on the court, it elevates our overall confidence, and then he impacts so many areas. You're talking about a guy that's one of the greatest ever to play."

Carter figures to step in at shooting guard which will enable Carlisle to keep Jason Terry on the bench. Once one the best five players in the game, Carter has regressed mightily over the past few years but could have a bit of a resurgence here since he will rarely be the focus of opposing defenses.

BENCH: If Terry isn't the best bench player in the league, Odom might be so this is a real strength for Dallas.

"The Jet" has been Dallas' top scoring option after Nowitzki for years and can really take over a game when the jumper is falling. Terry also gives the Mavs a second competent closer in tight situations.

Odom is one of the more gifted players in all of basketball and can beat you in a host of ways. He can take you from the inside or outside on the offensive end and torture you with his length as a defender. He's also the rare 6-foot-11 player that can handle the ball and beat you as a playmaker. Part of the reason Odom fell out of favor in Hollywood his reality television show in which he co-stars with wife Khloe Kardashian and his commitment could be an issue.

Veteran Delonte West, a two-way guard that has had a host of personal problems in the past, can really help at both ends if his head is on straight while the team has always liked the athleticism of Roddy Beaubois, who missed most of last season due to injury.

COACHING: Carlisle has a solid offensive and defensive pedigree and is one of the more underrated coaches in the game. He has morphed the Mavs from a run- and-gun team that had to outscore you to win into a more well-balanced bunch that can get the job done in a number of different ways.

OUTLOOK: Many considered Chandler, one of the best low-post defenders in the NBA, as the last piece to he Mavs' championship puzzle and the 7-footer has moved on to New York.

Haywood and Odom will be asked to fill that void and it remains to be seen if Carlisle can overcome the loss of his defensive anchor. On paper the Mavs traded the defense that got them over the hump for more firepower. That's like a "Back to the Future" scenario for Dallas and one that's likely to result in an all too familiar denouncement in the Metroplex -- an excellent regular season team that doesn't have the mettle to navigate the treacherous postseason waters.