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With Van Horn gone, forward may have to spell Dirk in playoffs

12:13 AM CDT on Tuesday, April 4, 2006
By EDDIE SEFKO / The Dallas Morning News

If he had his druthers, Josh Howard would prefer not to repeat last year's playoffs, when he saw considerable action at power forward.

But he's resigned to it happening again.

With Keith Van Horn scheduled for hand surgery today and probably out for the season, including the playoffs, the Mavericks have no proven backup behind Dirk Nowitzki. Not that that's a huge hole. In the playoffs, virtually all the minutes at that position go to the MVP candidate.

But he will need some rest, which is why the Mavericks are exploring their options, including using Howard at the power spot.

"I've never had a problem with changing positions," Howard said. "Guarding the big guys is no problem as long as I don't get posted up too deep [in the paint]."

Avery Johnson said the 20-point, five-rebound showing Howard had against Denver on Sunday offered proof of his value.

"You can see his impact," Johnson said. "We tried to hold out as long as we could without him. But he's the equivalent of a Ron Artest for us, or a [Manu] Ginobili in San Antonio or a Tayshaun Prince in Detroit. That's the sort of things he does for us."

There are other alternatives at the power-forward slot, however. Josh Powell has gotten the Mavericks' attention with his play in spot duty, and the team hopes he can be a rotation player – next season.

"Josh Powell has had a terrific year, but it's asking a lot of a first-year guy to do that in a playoff atmosphere," president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said.

Which brings us to option No. 3, which isn't likely to be an option at all. The Mavs have asked the NBA for a roster exception that would allow them to add a 16th player. But with only one player who is assured of being out for the playoffs (Van Horn), it would seem unlikely the league would agree to an extra player.

If the Mavs get an extra spot, the list of candidates is suspect. Players who haven't played in months, or even years, have surfaced. But while Christian Laettner, George Lynch and Shawn Kemp were capable in their day, how much would they offer now?

Of course, there's a fourth option, too: playing Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop together, something that hasn't happened all season.

"We'll make it through it," Nowitzki said. "Obviously, we'd love to have Keith as another shooter out there. We don't really have a lot of long-range shooters on our team besides [Jason Terry] and me. Stack [Jerry Stackhouse] is very streaky. So we got to find other ways to be effective on the offensive end."
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