DALLAS — The principals involved in the breakup of the National Basketball Assn.'s longest-playing backcourt combination provided their reasons, reactions and opinions to the introduction of Derek Harper as the Dallas Mavericks' starting point guard.
Harper was a surprise replacement for Brad Davis Wednesday in Dallas' 131-118 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Harper and Davis were surprised when first told of the change. Harper had designed his pregame routine around his role as a reserve.
"I guess it's just something he (Coach Dick Motta) felt he wanted to do," said Harper, who equaled his career high of 26 points against the Clippers. "I really don't know why he did it. What can I say?"
"I hope it's not a reflection on me," said Davis, who had started the last 238 games in which he played. "I don't think I've been playing that badly. Derek has been playing real well, though. I hope people don't put all the blame on my shoulders about it being my fault that we're not playing that well. I think it's everybody's fault when we don't play well, including mine. All I'm really worried about is how the players react and what the coaches tell me and what the players tell me. I've been told it wasn't a performance-type deal. They just want to see if Derek can spark us a little bit."
Dallas (19-20) has lost two straight, two of three at home, four of five and 12 of its last 20. The Mavericks' last four losses were to teams whose combined record is 67-105.
Motta, who changed starting lineups last year on Feb. 3, said his decision to start Harper with Rolando Blackman was not determined by the club's performance.
"I've had this in the back of my mind for a long time," Motta said. "I would have been more prone to do it on a win streak than a losing streak because in no way is this a reflection on the contribution Brad has made to this team. It's not Brad's fault we aren't playing to our potential."
Motta dismissed the suggestion that he made the change hoping that Harper might provide the spark the Mavericks have been lacking.
"If you look back at our games, we're not behind many times at the end of the first quarter, are we?" Motta said. "I think not starting is affecting Derek's play. All young kids feel they are a failure if they don't start, and we've got too many young kids. Derek has been working extremely hard in practice, but so has Brad. It's too bad that of the people who play a lot my two most natural hustlers play the same position."
Harper, when asked if he thought something had to be done in order to shake up the team, said, "Yes, I do, but we can't get down on ourselves. That will make it worse. The fans are down on us. We have to stick together and try to come out of it. When you're in a slump, you have to go out and play to change that. If we play well, the fans aren't going to boo us, so that will change that."
The Mavericks, who won a club-record 44 games last year, were expected to challenge for the Midwest Divison title this season. No one dismissed the expectations as being unrealistic.
"But you have to do it," Harper said. "I mentioned that we might win 50 games this year. That was talk. We're not doing it. Talk is cheap. We're not doing that. You can't blame the losses on one particular person. I don't think we're hustling as much as we could, and we do need to pick up our intensity."
Davis pointed to the Mavericks' uncharacteristically poor shooting as a major problem. But the Mavericks also have been plagued by turnovers and defensive lapses.
"It just seems like when we shoot under 50% it hurts us a lot," Davis said. "We're such a finesse team that we count on shooting the ball at 50% or better. Hopefully, we can start finding a few ways to win, even when we shoot below 50%."
The Mavericks needed game-saving plays from Harper, Dale Ellis and Sam Perkins to defeat Phoenix, Golden State and Seattle. The New York Knicks and Utah reached their season highs for points against Dallas.
"Teams are shooting at us now because they realize we are struggling a little bit," Harper said. "I think teams are getting up to play the Mavericks because they think there's a possibility of beating us."
Harper's answer is for the Mavericks to raise their emotional level. In the past, Dallas has won on execution rather than emotion.
"Everyone has his own personality. Mark (Aguirre) isn't emotional. Rolando isn't that emotional as far as getting people ready to play," Harper said. "A lot of times it takes someone jumping around and yelling to get people pumped up. If that's not happening, a lot of times it doesn't happen for us and we're sort of flat and we need to be into the game emotionally.
"We have a good team. We're just going to have to get ourselves out of it by showing the hustle and the intensity it takes. It's like Coach Motta always says--it's one thing to lose by missing a shot, but it's another to lose by not hustling."