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Mavericks get defensive by thinking small

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That whole defense thing, the Mavericks have done away with the idea. They tried it, didn't like it, so they're giving up on it.

At least that's what it looks like now, Mavericks coach Don Nelson reverting to his small-ball ways and giving Antoine Walker minutes at center to put Dallas' most potent offensive options all on the floor at once. The decision was made after the Mavericks lost to the Heat on Rafer Alston's 3-pointer in overtime.

"Hopefully, it can be a better situation for all of us, me included," Walker said. "Defensively is where we're going to have to work hard on it. As long as I get a little help down there in the paint once in a while, we'll be fine."

It seems to be working well for the Mavs, who beat the Sacramento Kings on Thursday and look as comfortable on the floor as they have all season.

"Last year, every time we needed to win a game, we always played small ball with Nick Van Exel and Steve Nash on the court together," forward/center Dirk Nowitzki said. "It's always been good to us."

But Nelson isn't ready to call the return to small ball a success.

"It can only take you so far," Nelson said. "When you play the big boys, it doesn't fare well in the playoffs. When you play bigger teams, it's going to force us to go bigger. I've coached small ball a long time, and I know how to do itFEELING GOOD: Despite being trounced by the Mavericks on Thursday, the Kings were talking like a team on an upswing heading into the postseason.

"I think Thursday night was a step forward," said Chris Webber, who questioned his team's approach and mentality after Wednesday's loss in San Antonio. "Yeah, I got on the team, but what I talked to them about was not winning. Ultimately, that is what you want to do, but it also is about the way you lose, too. Thursday night, we could walk out of here with our heads up.

"It's the NBA and you're not going to win every game. But the fight that we brought — and we didn't give up — that's all you can ask for."

The Kings fought back in a blowout to be seven points down in the final minutes. If that's what the Kings are building their championship dreams on, they are in more trouble than Webber knows.

DANGEROUS ROUTINE: The lay-up line isn't supposed to be a heath risk, but no one has told that to the Washington Wizards. Guard Juan Dixon recently suffered a sprained ankle in pregame warm-ups, the second time this season a Wizards player has been hurt before tip-off. Kwame Brown broke his nose earlier this year when he got a pregame elbow from teammate Torraye Braggs.

BETTER THAN A TITLE: How bad does Carmelo Anthony want to make the playoffs this season? He said it would mean more to him than his national championship last season in Syracuse.

"Making the playoffs, it would be bigger than winning the national championship," Anthony said. "The national championship was a big thing. But now, just making the playoffs during my first season . . . they won just 17 games last year, and we've doubled that. That's great.

"But even if we do win 40, 45 games, if we don't make the playoffs, we'll still be looked at as failures. I don't think anybody wants that feeling."

FAMILY PRIDE: It seems Stan Van Gundy isn't the only head coach in his family with that glass-half-empty mentality. His brother Jeff, the Rockets coach, describes their telephone conversations this way:

"It's more, 'How you doing? How's the team doing? How'd you play?' "

" 'We were terrible. How were you?' "

" 'Terrible.' "