DALLAS (AP) — Hours before the Dallas Mavericks' biggest game of the season, forward Josh Howard went on the radio Friday to talk about something else — his fondness for marijuana.
It was quite a follow-up to teammate Jerry Stackhouse calling opposing coach Byron Scott "a sucker in my book" on local airwaves.
Howard's comments are more serious because marijuana use is illegal and eligible for punishment from the NBA. It's a topic he's addressed before, but never so publicly, so close to tipping off such an important game, as the Mavericks were down 0-2 in their first-round series against the New Orleans Hornets.
"Most of the players in the league use marijuana and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the offseason sometimes," Howard told The Michael Irvin Show on the local ESPN affiliate. "I mean, that's my personal choice and my personal opinion, but I don't think that's stopping me from doing my job."
Howard was 5-of-16 from the field, but hit eight of 10 free throws and had 18 points to help the Mavericks beat the Hornets 97-87 on Friday night.
He went into the game averaging only 13.5 points over the first two games, down from 19.9 in the regular season. Even that's down from the upper 20s he averaged earlier this season.
"Just because I'm not scoring the same way I've been scoring, that's no reason for the media to say, 'Oh, it's because he's getting high,'" Howard told Irvin. "I'm still in season. I'm not smoking nothing."
After the game, Howard apologized "to my organization and all my fans" for all the fuss his comments created. Team owner Mark Cuban said Howard would be disciplined. The league could get involved, too, although Cuban and Howard said they hadn't heard anything yet.
"I'm sorry things have gone the way they are," Howard said. "I never meant to hurt nobody's feelings. But those two guys (Cuban and coach Avery Johnson) are going to help me handle that."
He also hopes the subject gets dropped.
"I think that's it for me with that," Howard said. "It's over with now. I'm trying to talk about basketball."
Stackhouse's comments came on his radio show Wednesday night.
"I don't think Byron Scott is the best coach or I don't think he's the best guy to deal with — you know what I'm sayin'? — from some things that I've heard from other players and just some dealings that I had with him earlier in the season," Stackhouse said.
Stackhouse said he "was about ready to" beat up Scott during the second game of this season.
"He was sitting on the sideline and we just got into a little conversation or something and he was going to tell me, you know, 'Talk to me when you get a ring,'" Stackhouse said. "I told that fool, 'If I played with Magic and Worthy and Kareem, I'd have a ring, too.'"
Stackhouse came off the bench Friday night after starting the first two games. He didn't score in seven minutes, all in the first half.
Stackhouse said he was surprised his comments became a story, but he understands the attention Howard has drawn.
"Josh is a free spirit, to say the least," Stackhouse said. "Hopefully he can let some of this slide by. It's not the ideal situation for everyone to be talking about going into Game 3, down 0-2. … We don't look at him no differently, we don't think about him no differently. We realize he's still a young player in his own right. He did what he did and we'll move on."
Howard, an All-Star last season, is in the second year of a $40 million, five-year contract that keeps him through 2010-11.
He was the ACC player of the year coming out of Wake Forest, but the Mavericks were able to draft him at the end of the first round in 2003. His marijuana use has been blamed for his draft stock plummeting.
Asked what he thought of having two starters being so chatty at such a pivotal time of their season, Cuban said: "It depends if we win or lose."
"If we win, 'Boy, it's amazing what guys do for motivation. It worked!'" Cuban said. "If we lose, 'Oh, what a distraction.'"
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.