After Nowitzki scored 20 of his 33 points by halftime, he was
benched for a possession just 20 seconds into the second half after
not executing a defensive play to the satisfaction of Johnson.
"I had him yanked out of there because I wasn't pleased with
his defense," Johnson said.
It was a tough first game for Johnson even though the Mavericks
beat Charlotte 104-93 Saturday night.
Still, it was special for Johnson, the protege who took over the
job when Don Nelson resigned earlier in the day. He planned to give
the game ball to the man he replaced.
"We missed Nellie on the bench," Johnson said. "He probably
would have won this game by 25, but since we have a young coach, I
guess we couldn't get that done."
While the Mavericks outrebounded Charlotte 49-33, the Mavs
struggled often on the defensive side that Johnson stresses so
much. Nowitzki allowing a long jumper by 7-foot-1 Primoz Brezec was
just one example of many times Johnson cringed courtside.
Nelson wasn't likely to put Nowitzki on the bench for something
like that. Johnson did quickly.
"I didn't do my job on defense, I let my guy get the ball too
deep. That's a message he sent to me and everybody," Nowitzki
said. "I came back in and did a better job. We've all got to take
Dallas just couldn't shake the expansion Bobcats, who have lost
10 straight games and are 2-31 on the road. Playing for the second
straight night, Charlotte was still within four points after Keith
Bogans hit a 3-pointer with 4:32 left to make it 92-88.
When the clock stopped soon after that play, Johnson was
animated as he spoke to Jason Terry about a defensive breakdown.
Nelson, who is remaining a team consultant, was never far away.
He watched much of his first game in the new role from an empty
seat on press row.
The second-winningest coach in NBA history was recognized before
the game, waving to the crowd from just behind the scorer's table
at midcourt. He watched the first quarter from the nearby tunnel,
seemingly trying to stay out of view before moving closer.
"Even if he's not in the building, even if he's home, you'll
feel him hovering over the team," Johnson said. "He's going to be
around. He's the happiest guy in Dallas right now. I'm glad it was
done the way it was done."
Nelson finished with a career record of 1,190-880 over 27
seasons, including stints with Milwaukee, Golden State and the New
York Knicks. He went 339-251 in eight seasons with Dallas, best in
Johnson, who has also run practices since training camp and had
some test runs as coach with Nelson serving as his assistant, is
"We should all be so fortunate to walk into a job the way he
did," Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "It should be a
transition that's smooth since he's been coaching there all year."
Before taking over full-time, Johnson had two stints coaching in
Nelson's place this season. His first came when Nelson had shoulder
surgery, and the other when Nelson took time off recently to be
with his wife after an operation.
Bogans finished with 27 points for Charlotte, while Brezec had
16 points and Emeka Okafor had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Terry added 18 points for the Mavs, while Marquis Daniels had
17. Michael Finley had just four points on 1-of-10 shooting, but
had 10 rebounds, as did Shawn Bradley in just his sixth start this
The Mavericks finally went ahead to stay with an 11-1 run at the
end of the third quarter that Daniels started with a slam dunk and
ended with an acrobatic play.
After Bogans drove for a layup with 5:15 left in the third to
put the Bobcats up 69-68, Daniels dunked to put Dallas in front. By
time Daniels stole a pass and drove for a breakaway layup made with
his back to the basket and hit the free throw, the Mavericks led
^Notes: Nowitzki was 12-of-20 shooting. ... For the 11th time in 12
games, the Mavs were outscored in the first quarter, this time
blowing an 11-point lead. Charlotte had a 15-2 run to take a 28-26
lead after the first. ... Dallas made 15 of 21 shots in the second
for a 61-50 halftime lead. ... The Mavs had a 32-9 rebounding
margin at halftime.