Mavs' closing conundrum: Who plays center?

OKLAHOMA CITY – Tyson Chandler’s rim-protecting presence played a major role in the Mavericks’ remarkable ability to finish games strong during the team’s title run. Now, the Mavs aren’t sure which center will be on the floor during crunch time on a game-to-game basis.

Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright have all been part of the closing lineup this season, which might explain why Dallas has gone from dominant to mediocre in such situations this season.

“Sometimes those are gut decisions,” Carlisle said. “Sometimes you lay them out and have a plan that you have in mind. All year long, it’s been kind of a feel thing with those guys.”

Wright played a grand total of 18 seconds in the fourth quarter. On the first defensive possession after he checked into the game, Wright committed a touch foul on Russell Westbrook’s game-tying and-1 layup and was immediately benched.

The Mavs built a seven-point lead after Haywood, the Mavs’ starter and best defensive center, replaced Wright. However, Carlisle opted to go with the more offensively skilled Mahinmi with 2:16 remaining, a decision that can be second-guessed after Dallas didn’t score a field goal the remainder of the game while the Thunder stole the win with a 12-4 closing run.

It’s a decision Carlisle didn’t have to make last season.