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NBA notebook: New-look Mavericks expect to make noise in West

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, left, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at the NBA All-Star Game Sunday.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, left, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at the NBA All-Star Game Sunday.
Lm Otero, Associated Press

The Dallas Mavericks would like to host another big-time NBA event this season. So they made some changes.

With the record-breaking All-Star weekend in their backyard over, the Southwest Division-leading Mavericks will begin the final 30-game stretch of the regular season Tuesday night looking much different than they did when losing five of seven games before the break.

A seven-player weekend trade brought two-time All-Star guard Caron Butler, 7-foot center Brendan Haywood and guard DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas from Washington. Often promising and disappointing Josh Howard was sent with Drew Gooden and two others to the Wizards.

"Now I don't know how many of you out there are going to pick us in a seven-game series against the Lakers, but in our opinion the guys in that locker room, we're ready to lock horns with anybody," Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "We feel like this solidifies us a little bit."

Enough to think about the possibility of playing Los Angeles in a Western Conference final? Or getting back to the NBA Finals four years after blowing a two-game lead and losing in six games to Miami?

"We'll find out," owner Mark Cuban said. "You just never know until you get out there and play, and if we can get back to where we were early in the season and get healthy. … I think we're better."

The Mavericks (32-20) still lead their division despite the slump before the break that included a 36-point loss to Denver, one of the three teams ahead of them in the West, in their last game.

Dallas had its lone practice Monday with their three newcomers before a stretch of four games against probable playoff teams in five days.

"We were struggling here for a month, so we are excited now to have some new guys," All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "It's not going to be an easy ride, but we are looking forward to coming together quick and hopefully finish the season strong."

The Mavericks play at Oklahoma City on Tuesday and are home the next night against Phoenix before a day off and then another back-to-back set, at Orlando and home against Miami.

Butler, who has averaged 16.9 points a game in his eighth NBA season, is expected to move into the Mavericks' starting lineup. Jason Terry, who last year got the NBA sixth man award as the league's top reserve, is expected to move back into that role after starting the past 11 games.

Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, who because of a sore left ankle didn't play in the All-Star game before the record crowd of 108,713 at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night, said Butler will be a good addition for Dallas. They were teammates with the Lakers in 2004-05.

"You put him on a contender, and I'm telling you, you're going to love him," Bryant said. "He's tough as nails."

Haywood provides needed depth in the middle behind Erick Dampier, who missed three of four games before the break. That forced Gooden, now headed to his eighth team in eight seasons, to fill that role much more than planned when Dallas signed him last summer.

"We were running into problems. Damp is having problems with his knees and requires rest every now and then, and we really were in a spot without having a shot-blocker behind him," Cuban said. "Drew did a great job; he laid it out there every game for us to try to go in as a five. Going into the season, we thought that would work, and it just didn't play out as planned."

The Mavericks also envision using Dampier and Haywood together to match up against other teams using two big men.

BROWN SAYS JORDAN WANTS TO BE OWNER: Former NBA great Michael Jordan could have a new role soon: team owner.

Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown says Jordan is doing everything he can to become the majority owner of the club in his home state.

Brown said Monday night that Jordan "wants it badly" and is hopeful he'll soon be running the franchise. Bob Johnson is looking to sell the unprofitable club, and NBA commissioner David Stern said Saturday he expects a deal to be completed within two months.

It's uncertain if Jordan, currently a part owner with the final say on basketball decisions, will be able to put an ownership group together and agree with Johnson on a price.

Former Rockets executive George Postolos also has made inquiries about buying the team.

IVERSON RETURNS: Allen Iverson has returned to the Philadelphia 76ers after missing five games to be with his ill daughter and expects to play Tuesday night against Miami.

Iverson returned to practice Monday for the first time since Feb. 2. Iverson was voted an Eastern Conference All-Starter, but skipped Sunday's game to spend additional time with his family. He says doctors are still not sure what is ailing his 4-year-old daughter, Messiah.

"I'd be lying if I told you it was tough to leave her and my wife and kids," Iverson said. "But I do have a commitment and an obligation to be with my team and to do my job. But it is rough. I think this is the only thing I do in life where for a couple hours during the game I don't think about nothing but (basketball).

Coach Eddie Jordan says he has not decided if Iverson will start against the Heat. Iverson has averaged 14.4 points in 25 games since he returned to the Sixers in December.