DALLAS -- When the Mavericks come out sleepwalking as they did Monday night against the desperate Cleveland Cavaliers, coach Rick Carlisle reaches for his Mr. Energy -- and Ian Mahinmi delivered again.
The 6-foot-11, raw, but enticing third-year center also again provided intrigue into the direction of the backup center position. Brendan Haywood has been a major disappointment and against Cleveland he didn't get off the bench, sporting a DNP-CD for a second time this season. Granted, the undersized, and up-tempo Cavs are not an ideal matchup for Haywood, who is more in the mold of Erick Dampier than Tyson Chandler.
Carlisle turned to Mahinmi with 2:40 to go in the first quarter and Cleveland leading 26-19. He immediately created a jolt and the Mavs finished off the quarter on a 10-2 run. By the time Mahinmi sat down with 5:21 left in the half, Dallas led 45-32. Mahinmi had two points and four rebounds, but more telling than the numbers was the obvious infusion of enthusiasm the team badly needed against a team that entered the Mavs' 99-96 victory with 24 consecutive losses.
"He was by far our best player," Carlisle said. "He was doing things consistently that we needed to be doing as a team all night which was being extremely alert, being ready to react and respond, quick to the ball, willing to take charges, those kinds of things. He played a great game."
Mahinmi played more than 20 minutes and finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including a nifty spin move and left-handed hook. He also had eight rebounds. It was Mahinmi's third double-digit scoring game and the third game in which he recorded six or more rebounds. On the season, he's averaged 6.9 minutes in 31 games. Haywood has had two double-digit scoring games and 11 games of six rebounds in more. He's played in 48 games and averages 17.1 minutes.
"We've got high expectations with this team with all those vets," Mahinmi said. "The younger guys have to come up with a lot of energy. I don't know exactly how many minutes I'm going to get every night, but I know that if I get in I know exactly my role and I try and do that."
Mahinmi might be embarking on a new role as part-time backup power forward. He got a few minutes in that spot playing alongside Chandler in the fourth quarter of not only a close game, but one in which a loss would have been humiliating. Carlisle said he he felt Dirk Nowitzki, who hurt his right wrist in the first quarter, and Shawn Marion were winded so he went with Mahinmi. The Mavs don't have possess the physical, blue-collar power forward element, a role Carlisle said he could experiment with further.
Mahinmi has performed well in the past only to find himself planted at the end of the bench the next night where third-string centers typically find themselves. And he could again when the Mavs begin a three-game road trip Wednesday at Sacramento Kings. But, Mahinmi is clearly earning the trust of his coach and has it from his teammates, starting with the captain.
"I like Ian. He's physical, he's athletic, he's fast," Nowitzki said. "He's worked on his in-between game. He's not only a back-to-the-basket guy or a hustle guy, but he can finish. He even had like two lefty hooks [against Cleveland] and he can make that 15-, 16-footer. So, yeah, I think he can play 4 and 5. He comes to work every day. He's a pro."