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In debut, Wright picks up where he left off

DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks center Samuel Dalembert received his first DNP-coach's decision of the season Saturday in the team’s 106-93 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Dalembert said he was "surprised" by the benching. Brandan Wright’s season debut had a lot to do with Dalembert’s absence. In just less than 19 minutes of action, the center/forward scored 19 points and pulled down six rebounds. That’s not a bad effort in your season debut.

"My production was good," Wright said after the game. "I’m still a ways off from where I want to be overall physically. It was a good start."

A good start was what the Mavericks needed, because they were without head coach Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki, who were both dealing with illness.

After a crushing loss to the Golden State Warriors to end their four-game road trip, the Mavs hit the ground running to start their three-game homestand. Jose Calderon started the game on fire from the perimeter, but Wright’s scoring and energy off the bench maintained a level of consistency throughout the rest of the period.

"It was great to see him out there," Mavericks assistant coach Monte Mathis said of Wright. "His athleticism on defense, on offense, all of those in-between shots that we know he’s really good at -- he showed us that again. He did a great job with the game plan, the schemes on defense. He’s just an experienced guy, so it’s great to have him back."

One might think a 9-for-10 shooting effort from the field is a nearly perfect launching point, but Wright predicted things will get better.

"I’m probably 65-70 percent in shape," Wright said. "It’s just the first game. I’ve got a long ways to go. We’ve got a lot of good practice time coming up. I should be even better on Wednesday."

Even though the opening tip was delayed, the game against Milwaukee ended up being a continuation of Wright’s fantastic finish to last season. Wright, now 26, played some of his best basketball toward the end of the season, when he averaged 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 23.8 minutes in the final 24 games. He shot 57.8 percent from the field in that span.

Prior to Saturday's game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talked about those numbers to finish last season being a baseline for Wright going into this one.

"I hope so," Cuban said. "I don’t know why it wouldn’t be."

With a 19-and-six performance, has the baseline gone up?

"Whatever I can do to help this team win," Wright said. "I think that [last season’s statistical finish] is the minimum baseline for what I can do and what I can do to help this team."

While DeJuan Blair has started the past five games and done a solid job for the Mavericks, Wright, now healthy, can certainly make a case that he could be the starting center for Dallas. Cuban can envision Wright starting for the Mavericks this season.

"Yeah, but I think he can be more effective off the bench," Cuban said. "Wherever coach wants to use him."

If you jell with Nowitzki, you’ve got a great shot to get plenty of time on the floor. Last season, Nowitzki and Wright played a total of 386 minutes together and had an offensive rating of 114.1, meaning that the team would, on average, score 114 points for every 100 possessions. Those numbers are out-of-this-world good.

"We just play off each other well," Wright said in regard to working off Nowitzki. "He works that midrange to 3-point line really well, and I work inside of that really well. It’s just a perfect match."

Those two together in the starting lineup might be problematic on defense, though Wright’s energy and athleticism could possibly make it work on that end. Whether he starts or comes off the bench -- as he’s accustomed to doing -- Wright is very confident in his abilities.

"I’m comfortable either way," Wright said in response to whether he should be a starter or reserve. "I don’t think it really matters. I feel like I’m going to play a pretty good bulk of the minutes. Starting or coming off the bench, I think I’m still going to produce. I think it [starting] is overrated sometimes."

Dallas re-signed Wright to a two-year, $10 million deal this summer with the hope that he could pick up where he left off last season. Wright explained that he isn’t looking to live up to the contract that he signed, though he is ready to handle the challenge of trying to take his game to the next level.

"I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove," Wright said. "I’m still young in this game, and I don’t feel like I’ve hit my prime yet. I’ve still got a long ways to go to get to where I want to be. I want to prove a lot of people wrong."

If Saturday’s game against Milwaukee is any indicator, the money was well spent by Cuban and Wright is on the fast track to showing up the doubters. Whether he does it at the start of games or a little later remains to be seen.