Mavs Finding Challenges, Meeting Them

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 28, 2006; 12:57 PM

Team of the Week

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has won six in a row and 19 of 20 games overall going into its critical showdown with the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday. Obviously, the Mavericks have grown so bored with winning that they have decided to give themselves new challenges during games. They made up a 19-point deficit to beat Memphis, came back from a 24-point second-half deficit to defeat the Toronto Raptors, then Dirk Nowitzki sprained his ankle in the first quarter against Philadelphia and returned to score 11 fourth-quarter points in the win. Nowitzki has scored at least 30 points in the past three games after going 15 consecutive games without scoring more than 37. He is averaging 31.7 points, while making 36 of 66 (54.5 percent) from the floor and 17 of 19 (89.4 percent) from the foul line, in the past three wins.

Team of the Weak

New York Knicks

The Knicks are expensive, incongruent and abysmal. Each move Knicks president Isiah Thomas makes leads to more questioning, more head-scratching and, apparently, more misery. Thomas has assembled a team of supposedly talented players without any regard for team chemistry. Knicks Coach Larry Brown has contributed to the fiasco by constantly reshuffling the deck, prohibiting any chance of continuity with 34 different starting lineups. The Knicks are 0-3 since they acquired Stephon Marbury clone Steve Francis from Orlando, 1-11 since Jalen Rose came to town and have lost 20 of 22 games overall. Through the course of a wretchedly forgettable season in Gotham the Knicks are proving one thing -- $125 million doesn't go as far as it used to. With a payroll almost four times that of the Charlotte Bobcats ($33.3 million), the Knicks have the same amount of wins (15).

Player of the Week

Shawn Marion, Phoenix Suns

How can a three-time all-star be unappreciated? When his name is Shawn Marion. Steve Nash seemingly gets all of the credit for leading the Suns atop the Pacific Division without Amare Stoudemire, but he certainly hasn't been doing it alone. The Matrix has been on an awesome tear since the all-star break, posting two career highs in points (44) and rebounds (24). Marion totaled 75 points and 39 rebounds in back-to-back wins against Boston and Charlotte and joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone as the only players in the past 30 years to reach those totals in consecutive games. In the past three games, Marion has averaged 35 points and 19 rebounds. He is also shooting 63.3 percent (38-60) from the floor. Marion became the first Sun to score 30 or more points and grab at least 20 rebounds in a game since Charles Barkley (34 points, 26 rebounds) in March 1995. Marion has had 10 double-doubles in his past 11 games and leads the league with 43.

Player of the Weak

Salim Stoudamire, Atlanta Hawks

Salim Stoudamire's enigmatic behavior at Arizona possibly contributed to him slipping into the second round of last summer's draft, but Stoudamire hasn't learned from his past. Hawks Coach Mike Woodson finally got fed up with his moodiness and suspended the rookie shooting guard for two games without pay last week. It seems Stoudamire has made his displeasure about coming out of games too obvious on several occasions this season, but crossed the line during a loss against Seattle when he played just 11 minutes. Woodson and Stoudamire denied a report in the New York Post that the dispute resulted in a locker room confrontation, but Woodson said Stoudamire's bad attitude warranted the slap on the wrist. "There's a standard of behavior in the locker room, on the floor and everywhere else that I think you have to uphold as a good teammate that just isn't there," Woodson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I'm not going to tolerate it. Not from Salim or anyone else on this team."

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