LOS ANGELES -- Why not think big after this kind of performance from the Dallas Mavericks’ centers?
"If we play like this every night, we’ll win the rest of the games and make it to the Finals," Brandan Wright said with a wry smile, well aware that he’s not going to go 10-for-10 from the floor too often.
But Wright had a perfect-10, season-high, 23-point performance -- and arguably wasn’t even the Mavs' best big man in Friday night’s 107-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Coach Rick Carlisle called Samuel Dalembert the key player of the game after the starting center’s 14-point, 14-rebound outing. At this point, that kind of a night doesn’t come as a surprise for Dalembert, who has been a consistent force for the past month or so.
Sure, it’s worth noting that these Lakers don’t exactly feature a center worthy of following in the footsteps of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Heck, they didn’t even have 7-footers Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, part of L.A.’s MASH unit that wore suits and watched from the bench.
The Mavs will face many better big men than Jordan Hill and Kent Bazemore during their playoff push, but the dominance of Dalembert and Wright shouldn’t simply be dismissed due to inferior competition.
This was the Mavs’ one-two big-man punch -- with DeJuan Blair at least temporarily pushed to the fringe of the rotation -- at its best.
A lack of talent isn’t the reason Dalembert has bounced around to five teams in five seasons. He’s always been an effective rebounder and interior presence when his motor was revved up. The problem has been getting that motor going on a regular basis.
But that hasn’t been a recent issue for Dalembert, who is averaging 8.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 21.4 minutes over the past 15 games. Carlisle raved about Dalembert’s "energy and activity," specifically when the Mavs need a jolt in the third quarter after a sluggish first half, after the win over the Lakers.
That’s suddenly the status quo for Dalembert.
"When the time is consistent, you’re able to find a way to be consistent," Dalembert said. "The time’s been consistent for us. We pretty much know how many minutes you’re going to play, when you’re going in, when you’re going out. Then, you just go all out. I don’t try to save nothing. You basically just play."
Wright is consistently one of the NBA’s most efficient finishers, so it’s not necessarily shocking to see him go 10-for-10, a perfect shooting night exceeded this season only by a 12-of-12 outing by Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka. After all, the lefty leaper does have a field goal percentage (68.5) that would officially lead the league if Wright had enough attempts to qualify.
Wright can catch and finish above the rim with the best of them, and he’s effective with little floaters when he can’t get all the way to the rim. All of his buckets against the Lakers were in the restricted area, and several of them were highlight material.
"They didn’t have a rim protector in there, and he made them pay for it," said forward Shawn Marion, who had a nice night himself with 15 points and eight rebounds.
That’s exactly what Wright is expected to do. His athleticism and spry legs are particularly valuable on a night like this, when the veteran-heavy Mavs were wrapping up a back-to-back set.
"I know I’ve got to come with my energy when I come in the game," said Wright, who wisely made a point to praise his teammates for setting him up for so many easy buckets. "I can’t be old. I’ve got to play hard and do the things I do best."
The Mavs have been getting the best of Dalembert for about a month. If Wright also gets on a roll, the Mavs should at least have a big finish to the regular season and punch their ticket to the playoffs.