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News » Howard: Dallas' X-factor, difference-maker

Howard: Dallas' X-factor, difference-maker

Howard: Dallas' X-factor, difference-maker
DALLAS (AP) - This time last year, Josh Howard seemed lost - a guy who went on local radio to chat about how much he enjoys "smoking weed in the offseason sometimes," then followed a playoff loss by going to a party in his honor that his coach had told him to skip.

This time last month, Howard couldn't be counted on for another reason - having missed 11 straight games for the second time this season because of a bum ankle that probably needs surgery.


He might be the biggest reason the Dallas Mavericks are getting ready to play the Denver Nuggets in a second-round playoff series.

"I keep fighting," Howard said.

Since Howard's latest return, the Mavs have climbed two spots in the Western Conference over the final few weeks of the regular season - to sixth - then opened the playoffs by eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in five games. Dallas is 11-3 in that stretch, matching the Lakers for best in the NBA.

Although Dirk Nowitzki outscored Howard by a basket during the first round, anyone around the Mavs will say Howard was the series MVP, primarily for propping up the offense in Games 1 and 4 when the Spurs clamped down on Nowitzki and Jason Terry. He's become Jason Kidd's go-to guy in transition and he's the top perimeter defender.

He's also having fun again. The joy can be seen on his face as much as the box score, with teammates feeding off his energy and enthusiasm.

"He's always kind of been our X-factor," Nowitzki said. "When he's playing well and he's fired up, he can play both ends of the floor."

Howard's willingness to play through pain and to restore his reputation is a nice reward for the team's faith in him.

The Mavericks stuck with Howard through all his travails over the past year, a list that also includes getting busted going 94 mph in a 55 mph zone and a YouTube video in which he says he doesn't celebrate the national anthem because he's black.

Whether the Mavs supported him because they truly believed he could return to his All-Star form, or simply because his trade value was so low, it doesn't matter now. Their loyalty is paying off.

"We're a conditional-love business," said Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations. "Anybody is with you when you're at the top. But when you're in the gutter and getting kicked around, you remember the hands that reach out and are there for you. We felt that when Josh was going through his difficult periods, we wanted to be on his side."

The last month also has reminded everyone of his versatility, a jack-of-all-trades skill set (inside and outside, leading the break or breaking up the opponent's) that allows other players to focus more on what they do best.

"Look, Josh is just a really big part of what we do," Nelson said. "His athleticism, his rebounding, it gives us a completely different dimension. With the years Jason (Kidd), Dirk and (Terry) put together, we really got some good consistency from those positions. Now, with Josh feeling a lot better, there's great chemistry there. I just think he's really, in a lot of respects, our trump card."

There's one more card to be played this series - the 2003 draft card.

Howard was the 29th pick in the class headlined by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Denver's Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony just won his first playoff series. Howard already has been to the finals, losing to Wade and the Heat in 2006. Don't think Howard has forgotten about being considered an afterthought of that draft class.

Then again, between getting more distance from the bugaboos of his recent past and with surgery likely awaiting once the playoff run ends, Howard might have all the motivation he needs.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 30, 2009


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