When the topic of Brendan Haywood comes up, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle unfailingly defends his backup center's effort and work ethic, if not always his production. Not even Carlisle could do that.
Hawyood is in the midst of his worst of 10 NBA seasons. His 3.9 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 17.5 minutes are career lows, by far. Consider this: In 28 games with the Mavs last season -- about half of which Erick Dampier was injured -- Haywood averaged 8.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and 26.5 minutes.
And then there's nights like Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, when Haywood became the engaged player everyone expected to see on a nightly basis. He scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked a shot and was a force in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter when the Mavs turned a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
Haywood had seven points and four boards, two offensive, and made five of eight free throws during his nearly nine minutes of fourth-quarter playing time.
"I think he can give us a presence on the inside offensively," Carlisle said. "We’ve gone to him a little more in recent games. I love when he gets the ball and goes strong."
Haywood played 19 minutes against Atlanta after playing just eight minutes in the game before. One game before that, Haywood put in 24 solid minutes defending Blake Griffin. The game before that, he played five minutes.
The Atlanta game was picture perfect. Haywood's 19 good minutes allowed Carlisle to play Tyson Chandler 29 minutes, right about where Carlisle would like to keep his starter. The center tandem combined for 22 points and 11 boards. The key question regarding Haywood is whether he can deliver Atlanta-like energy and production more consistently over the second-half of the season.
The Mavs hope Monday night wasn't the answer. Facing the Washington Wizards, his old team, Haywood figured to have motivation on his side and to be at the top of his game. However, it didn't go by the script. Haywood played just nine minutes and put up goose-eggs across the board except for a lone turnover and two fouls.
It was instead Ian Mahinmi who again gave Carlisle more reasons to give him extra looks. The third-year center had seven points, two rebounds and a block in seven minutes. Mahinmi has become the guy Carlisle turns to when he feels the team needs a jolt of energy.
Carlisle really has no choice but to continually praise and encourage Haywood publicly in hopes the big man will raise his level of play. However, Carlisle must massage Haywood to get the most out of him is critical. Carslisle knows he will need Haywood to perform at a high and consistent level come the playoffs.
"He plays. He tries," Carlisle said. "I do think when he can get involved offensively, it energizes our team. I don’t think it necessarily energizes him, but I think it helps our team. Guys pull for Brendan because they know that this has been a situation that hasn’t gone sort of to form with the Tyson trade and all that, and the guys have to really make some adjustments. A lot of our guys really respect how he’s approached it."
It's time for Haywood to show his teammates the same respect with more quality outings on the court.