Avery has to make hay - the sun may not shine long

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

March 5, 2008 - Avery Johnson needs to make hay while the sun shines, because sun may be setting on the Mavericks.

After a deflating road trip in which the Mavericks lost all three games they played against Western Conference powers, Dallas now comes home to host nine of the next 10 games.

If the Mavericks are to get out of the seventh-place hole they find themselves in, now is the time to do it. If not, it may be the last hurrah for Johnson.

There is no excuse for Johnson if the Mavericks don't go to at least the Western Conference Finals this year. He finally got a point guard that he says he can trust (more on that later), and has stocked his roster with aging veterans who he believes know how to win games in the fourth quarter.

We haven't seen the fruits of that yet, but there are still 21 games left in the season.

What Johnson has also done to the roster is strip it of athleticism and youth. The only young players on the Maverick roster are Brandon Bass and Antoine Wright, both in their third years in the league, and J.J. Barea in his second. Bass is the only one who will see any significant playing time down the stretch of the season.

The Mavericks picked up 11-year point guard Tyronn Lue on Tuesday, so Barea will never get off the bench, and Wright has played exactly three minutes in one game since the Mavericks picked him up in the Kidd trade.

Johnson would rather play virtually useless Devean George, who is shooting 37 percent from the field, than Wright, who is shooting 40 percent and has more rebounds, assists and steals than George this season. We all saw George crater in the playoffs last year.

Statistically, the Mavericks are worse off this year than in 2004-05, which was Don Nelson's last full year as head coach. Then, the Mavericks were averaging 102.5 points per game and giving up 96.8, a difference of 5.7 points. This year, they are scoring 99.6 points and giving up 95.8, a difference of 3.8 points.

Johnson wants to pride himself on defense, but the Mavericks are allowing just one point less this year than they did with all-offense Nellie coaching. Plus, opponents are shooting better against the Mavericks this year (44.8 percent) than against Nellie (43.8 percent).

The only defense the Mavericks play in the fourth quarter against quality teams is to foul them and hope they miss their free throws. That's not reassuring.

Johnson has the nickname of The Little General, and it's obvious why. He has a tendency to micromanage every facet of the game. He calls plays on every trip down court - he said he had to with inexperienced Devin Harris, but he's still doing it with future Hall of Famer Kidd. At some point, he's got to get his boot off the neck of his players and let them play.

Johnson didn't even trust Kidd to be on the floor with the Mavericks down by one point against San Antonio with 34 seconds left to play. That was an idiotic move. The Mavericks lost by three points, and then lost deflatinggames to the Lakers and Jazz. Had the Mavs beaten San Antonio - and Kidd certainly gave them a better chance to do that - then who knows how they might have fared against L.A. and Utah.

The Mavericks have just 21 games left in the regular season. They are one game ahead of Golden State and just three ahead of ninth-place Denver. More missteps, and they might not even make the playoffs.

Of course, in the playoffs is where Johnson's lack of coaching acumen has been most revealing. He was seriously outcoached by Pat Riley and Nelson in the Mavericks' last two embarrassing playoff series.

This year, he might not even get that chance.

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