Gooden's next challenge: defend Duncan

Drew Gooden stepped into the starting lineup with back-to-back double-doubles. He’ll have his biggest challenge so far this season Wednesday night, when Erick Dampier is expected to sit out his third consecutive game while dealing with an unspecified illness.

Here come Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.

Dampier’s ability to defend Duncan is often cited when discussing his value to the Mavs. Even before the season, when the coaching staff was considering making Gooden the primary starting center, Dampier was expected to get the call against big men who were scoring threats with their backs to the basket. And there aren’t many in the league better at operating after catching the ball on the block than Duncan.

Gooden, who averaged 16.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in his two starts, should at least have a good scouting report on Duncan. They were teammates in San Antonio for the final month and a half of last season. The Spurs showed no interest in re-signing Gooden, which might provide a little extra motivational fodder.

The Mavs might get a little extra help at center Wednesday night, too. Tim Thomas, who had knee surgery just before training camp, might make his Mavs debut. Thomas was signed primarily because of his perimeter shooting ability, but his defense of Duncan in a Knicks win last season was cited by Mavs brass when they made the claim that he is an above-average post defender.