French Connection centers join fun

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
11:47
PM CT

DALLAS -- Through triumph and despair, Dirk Nowitzki has never turned away an interview. Yet, on Tuesday night after the Dallas Mavericks finally shook free of the pesky Golden State Warriors, 105-100, for a 10th consecutive victory, Nowitzki was shooing away reporters.

“You don’t want to talk to me,” Nowitzki said after his game-high 25-point performance. “It was Ian’s night. Ian and Ajinca’s night.”

For those scoring at home, that’s Ian "Yan" Mahinmi, and Alexis "ah-lek-SEE" Ajinca “ah-JIN-sa”.

The key to Dallas' 17-4 start has been a total buy-in to the team concept and receiving timely contributions up and down the roster.

That trickled down Tuesday to Mavs’ French Connection, third- and fourth-string centers unexpectedly called to duty. The twin Eiffel towers then did a number on the unsuspecting small-ball Warriors, combining for 15 points, 16 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals in 30 overall minutes. They outplayed the Warriors’ trio of big men of Andris Biedrins (eight points, 11 rebounds), Dan Gadzuric (six points, one rebound) and Lou Amundson (four points, one rebound).

[+] EnlargeAlexis Ajinca
Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn nine minutes of action, which was three times more than he'd played all season, fourth-string center Alexis Ajinca contributed three points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Dallas’ starting center, Tyson Chandler, was out with a stomach illness. That gave the 6-foot-11 Mahinmi from Rouen, France, the rare green light for prime-time minutes.

Usual backup Brendan Haywood started in place of Chandler, but picked up two fouls in the first quarter, as did Mahinmi, which got Ajinca involved in what was just the second game of the season in which the 7-footer from San Etienne, France has even been active.

The lanky Ajinca played nine emergency minutes. He came in with less than a minute to go in the first quarter and his arm-waving, hyperactive play kept him in until the 3:46 mark of the second quarter. All he did in was head to the locker room with three points, swishing a 15-foot baseline jumper, grab a career-high six rebounds -- three on each end -- block two shots, including a Stephen Curry drive at the rim, and make a steal.

As for Mahinmi, the Spurs castoff who last played extended minutes in an impressive showing in San Antonio on Nov. 26 and helped snap his former team’s 12-game win streak, he notched his first career double-double, which is one more than Haywood, the Mavs’ $55 million man, has this season. Of course, Mahinmi's time in San Antonio came courtesy of a team-imposed one-game suspension of Haywood for blowing up at coach Rick Carlisle during the morning shootaround.

Eight of Mahinmi’s 12 points -- three shy of his career-high -- came at the free throw line on 10 attempts, which tied Haywood’s makes at the line on 32 attempts all season. Mahinmi, with a career-high 10 rebounds in a career-tying 21 minutes, was so active that even though Carlisle praised Haywood’s work -- four points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 19 minutes -- he stuck with Mahinmi for the entirety of a close fourth quarter with the win streak on the line.

Forgive yourself if Mahinmi doesn’t ring a bell. The little-used third-year pro apparently even shocked and awed Golden State coach Keith Smart.

“We knew he was on the roster,” Smart said before adding that he also knew he was a talented player.

“It’s great, especially for a guy like me,” Mahinmi said. “I’m looking for that kind of opportunity and for me to be able to come out and, not knowing when I’m going to get my playing time, it’s good. That means that all the work I do on an everyday basis works. So I’m going to keep doing what I do and hopefully get more playing time.”

Chandler might be recovered from his stomach bout by Thursday’s game against the New Jersey Nets. If not, Haywood will likely get the start, but Mahinmi, making less than $1 million, is pushing for minutes and Carlisle said he likes a good competition.

“He competes hard in practice. In games like tonight, he makes a strong case,” Carlisle said. “I am not by any stretch saying Haywood didn’t play well. I thought he did a good job, too. I just thought Ian’s energy level was the real difference-maker in the game.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Rick Carlisle

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.

Galloway & Company: Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Mark Cuban talk

Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Marc Stein

Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: The Standoff

Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Ramona Shelburne

ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.

Fitzsimmons and Durrett: Buy or sell

Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Marc Stein

ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Dalembert 6.8
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksS. Dalembert 1.2