Nowitzki: We’ve come a long way this season

Posting a 13-5 record during the month of January has the Dallas Mavericks atop the Southwest Division. Not bad for a team that has played well despite injuries to Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.
“If you would have asked me at Christmas and the day after, I would have said we’re in trouble,” Nowitzki told The Dallas Morning News after the Mavericks’ 122-99 victory Monday night in Phoenix. “But I think we’ve come a long way since the first couple of weeks of the season.
“I think guys got in better shape. I think guys are learning to play off each other. And I’ve said this almost feels like last year. We’ve got a bunch of veterans who want to play and are not selfish, like Vince and Lamar (Odom).”
Odom has struggled to find his game since he was traded to the Mavericks in December. The 2011 Sixth Man of the Year is averaging career-lows in nearly every major statistical category. He did, however, post a season-high 19 points Friday against the Utah Jazz.
One of the biggest surprises has been the solid play turned in by starting center Brendan Haywood. Many believed the Mavs wouldn’t be able to defend their title after Tyson Chandler left for the New York Knicks in a December sign-and-trade deal. But Haywood has stepped up and has averaged seven rebounds, five points and one block per game.
“I think we were really worried coming into the season, losing Tyson,” Nowitzki said. “But the way (Brendan) Haywood has been playing is some of the same stuff Tyson was doing for us, protecting the paint, blocking shots.”
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