In college at Kentucky, Jamal Mashburn was used to opponents playing their best against his team. It's the same now that he's a rookie with the Dallas Mavericks, but for a much different reason.
"It's tough in this league to get a win, especially when you go up against teams that don't want to lose to you," Mashburn said. "It's one of those situations where if you're good they play hard against you, and when you're bad they still play hard against you."
A year after being in the NCAA Final Four, Mashburn knows what bad is through his first half-season in the NBA. Although the Mavericks broke a 16-game losing streak with Saturday's 108-101 win over the Sacramento Kings (which was also the first home win for the Mavericks, after an 0-19 start), Dallas is 3-40 after losing, 90-85, to the Atlanta Hawks last night.
It would seem to be enough to drive a team crazy, but the Mavericks, having survived some early-season bickering over first-year coach Quinn Buckner, have appeared to settle down off the court. Buckner, after last week's 98-95 loss to the Washington Bullets that extended the losing streak to 15 games, was surprisingly calm.
"As much as people may think this is beating me up, it's not beating me up at all," Buckner said. "I want to win for the guys, I want to win for the organization. We learn some lessons together, and we just keep going on. My approach is the same -- to still try to build a foundation for a championship team."
Some would say Buckner, in his first year in Dallas, won't be around that long. But you can't blame the shape of the Mavericks on Buckner. Dallas was horrible long before Buckner arrived.
Mashburn and second-year guard Jim Jackson are nice cornerstones to build a team around, but the team's draft history before those two selections has been laughable.
Forward Doug Smith (1991) has yet to produce, and forward Randy White (1989) was touted as the next Mailman when he came out of Louisiana Tech, but has since played more like the sanitation man. And who knows what went through the minds of Mavericks officials in the 1985 draft when they selected both Bill Wennington and Uwe Blab with first-round picks?
With the trades over the years of Derek Harper, Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins, the Mavericks are left with the likes of Greg Dreiling, Donald Hodge and Tim Legler -- players who might have a hard time getting numbers in local recreation leagues. At least the Mavericks have seven draft picks over the next four years to look forward to. But it will be a long time until the Mavericks are a good team.
"It's embarrassing, because you don't want to go 2-80 the whole season," Mashburn said. "We play hard and still come up short, which shows we're short on personnel. We have to continue to move forward. We have pride, and we just want to go out and win."
Bucked Baker upset
Word out of Milwaukee is that rookie forward Vin Baker is a bit upset about being snubbed for the first rookie game to be played on Feb. 12 during All-Star weekend. And, looking at some of the rookies who did make the team, can you blame him?
Baker is averaging 10.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and has blocked 63 shots. The versatility of the 6-foot-11 rookie, who is able to play all three front-court positions and has a high game of 29 points, made Anthony Avent expendable (he was traded to the Orlando Magic).
But instead of Baker, the rookie game will feature guys like New Jersey Nets forward P. J. Brown (6.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, high game of 13 points), Dallas forward Ron "Popeye" Jones (6.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, high game of 13 points) and Utah Jazz forward Byron Russell (5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, high game of 15 points).
Sorry, you can't blame these picks on fan voting. It was a select panel of five media members (I haven't covered the league long enough to become "select") who picked the players for the rookie game.
Obviously, they must have seen Brown and Jones on their 13-point nights. For Baker, the only solace is that he can use the second half of the season showing -- as he did in the first half -- that he belonged.
Halftime grades are in
The conclusion of tonight's play will mark the official midway point of the season, with each team having played half of its 82 games. With that in mind, here's a brief mid-term report card on the league:
* Most Valuable Player: Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets. Although the Rockets have cooled considerably over their fast start (Houston's 4-6 in its past 10 games), Olajuwon's numbers (26.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.61 blocks) are hard to match. Sure, Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal's scoring and rebounding numbers are slightly better. But, after watching Shaq disappear while playing Washington's 7-7 rookie Gheorghe Muresan, is there a question of who you'd want in the pivot at the end of a tight game?
* Rookie of the Year: Orlando's Anfernee Hardaway. He's shown the ability to take over games, and has demonstrated great passing ability and the potential to be one of the top defensive guards in the league.
* Biggest surprise: The Philadelphia 76ers. Everyone's read about the hot start of the Rockets and the Seattle SuperSonics and the Hawks, and the surprising start of the Chicago Bulls without Michael Jordan.
But who would have thought that midway through the season the Sixers would be less than two games out of a playoff spot? After a rough start, rookie Shawn Bradley is showing signs of physically surviving the season, and Clarence Weatherspoon is demonstrating the ability of a future All-Star. Give coach Fred Carter a lot of credit.
* Biggest disappointment: The Cleveland Cavaliers. A season after winning 54 games, the Cavaliers reached the .500 mark last night. The team misses coach Lenny Wilkens.
* Biggest blunder: The Charlotte Hornets, for signing Larry Johnson to a long-term $84 million contract. Charlotte knew Johnson had a bulging disk at the time of the deal. Now Johnson's back problems have limited him to 26 games, and he's not expected back until March or April. He can't play basketball, but he still has time to film his Grandmama sneaker commercials (the latest aired during the Super Bowl).