Mavericks becoming big deal in Big D


DETROIT -- How 'bout them Mavs?

The Dallas Mavericks are third in the NBA's Midwest Division, two games over .500. They have won six games, which last season didn't happen until Feb. 10. Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson each have had 50-point games, which hadn't been done by one team since Celtics greats Larry Bird and Kevin McHale did it in 1983-84. Three more victories, and coach Dick Motta will move past Jack Ramsay (864) into fourth place among all-time coaches.

"If I were into milestones," Motta told reporters, "I'd celebrate the fact that I've lost more games than anybody [866] and still have a job."

He was kidding, we think. And even if he wasn't, you'll get no complaints from Mashburn or Jackson, whose talents went largely unnoticed by Quinn Buckner until Motta was hired as a consultant by owner Donald Carter. Motta's suggestions were helpful to Mashburn and Jackson, but it didn't save Buckner's job.

"More than anything else," Jackson said Saturday after a 124-123 overtime victory over the Nuggets, "Coach Motta came with a reputation of a coach who knew what he was doing. He'd been through every possible situation. We've been respectful from the beginning. We've paid close attention to what he says."

Nobody in Dallas seems to be grieving about the Mavs' passing on Duke phenom Grant Hill. Point guard Jason Kidd's offense needs some work, but in a six-game stretch he held opposing point guards to 10.2 points and 29 percent shooting from the field. "For me," Kidd said, "defense is a lot of fun."

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Phoenix guard Elliot Perry rebounded better from his knockout than did Michael Moorer, who talked of retirement after being floored by George Foreman. Perry struck Moorer's pose -- paws up, eyes glazed -- after taking an elbow from Utah's Karl Malone. Told that Perry suffered short-term memory loss, teammate Danny Ainge said: "Good. We'll tell him, 'Elliot, you were one of the greatest players in the NBA, another Michael Jordan. You were averaging 40 points and 12 steals a game. Don't you remember?' " Perry looked the part Sunday, making four free throws and a jumper in the final two minutes of a 115-110 victory over New Jersey.

* Stricter hand-checking rules and a 22-foot three-point line haven't done anything for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went six straight games without scoring more than 90 points. A 112-point game against the woeful Timberwolves helped, but they are averaging 95.1 points -- down 12.6 points from two seasons ago. "When you're in a situation we're in," coach Mike Fratello said, referring to injuries to Brad Daugherty and Gerald Wilkins, "you have to proceed cautiously. Each night, you do what is selective and smart." That means not shooting until just before the 24-second clock expires. "The style of ball we're playing is excruciating to watch," guard Mark Price said.

* Maybe Minneota should have moved to New Orleans. In six of their first seven home games, the Timberwolves have drawn fewer than 14,000 to the Target Center. The Wolves played to a full house (19,011) every game in their inaugu ral season, when the NHL's Stars were still in Minnesota. Sellouts dropped from 23 to 12 to four. The Wolves have one victory in 13 games and that was at Houston. Their two-season home losing streak is 10, prompting beleaguered coach Bill Blair to say, "People are dying to play us here."

* Price, after the Cavs thumped the Wolves: "Our problems don't seem so bad when you see a team play like that." . . . Mavericks forward Roy Tarpley doesn't miss Greece. "One night a guy threw an ax out on the court," he said, "and it stuck right in the wood." . . . The Suns used to fall to pieces -- 9-14 the previous two seasons -- if Charles Barkley didn't play. They're 8-3 this season without him.

* Bulls coach Phil Jackson chided Utah's Malone for still playing in the fourth quarter of a Jazz blowout. "At least I go in the game," Malone said during play, "when my coach tells me to." Ouch! . . . Celtics forward Dominique Wilkins went out on a limb last week, predicting his former club, the 0-12 L.A. Clippers, would break the 1972-73 Sixers' record for futility (9-73). To which Clippers coach Bill Fitch said, "Dominique who?"

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