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Monday, December 19, 2011
Countdown: Center of attention

By Jeff Caplan

Brendan Haywood says he's ready to do whatever is needed. Ian Mahinmi says he hopes the coaches believe in him as the primary backup.

We'll see.

Christmas Countdown
The center position is the most glaring area of concern as the Dallas Mavericks seek to defend their title without defensive leader Tyson Chandler. Haywood takes over as the starter. Mahinmi will be joined by a couple of 6-foot-10 power forwards/centers looking to move their so-far underwhelming careers forward, Brandan Wright and the newest acquisition Sean Williams.

The 235-pound Williams is a solid shot-blocker and rebounder who hails from nearby Mansfield, Texas, and could be the bigger threat to Mahinmi's potential playing time.

The possibility remains that Dallas could add another true center before long.

With smaller lineups, Lamar Odom and Dirk Nowitzki can fill time at center, but huge responsibility now falls into the hands of Haywood and likely the fourth-year Mahinmi, who has never been more than a third-string depth player.

"I’m pretty confident in myself and Brendan. We know each other and we know what we can do for the team," Mahinmi said. "I hope it, but if it’s not we’ll have to work with it and be ready to play."

The most obvious concern is fouls. Haywood has been known to pick up some quickies. And as far as the energetic Mahinmi, well, quickies doesn't describe the rate with which he hacks. Last season he nearly equaled his rebound total (120) with his foul total (105) and that's not going to cut it if he's second in line.

Mahinmi finished with five fouls in 25 minutes of Sunday's preseason opener.

"I’m thinking of two fouls I could have avoided, that little foul where I bumped [Kendrick] Perkins going down the lane and the other when I pushed into [Nick] Collison," Mahinmi said afterward. "Those were two fouls that I could have avoided. This is really something that I have to get better at. If it’s going to be me and Brendan, I need to make sure that I stay away from those fouls."

Haywood is coming off his least productive statistical season. He admitted at the end of the season that it took him some time to mentally adjust from thinking he was the starter to suddenly backing up Chandler, who quickly won the job and won over the locker room as a demonstrative difference-maker.

If anything, Haywood should enter the season enthused about starting for the defending champs and seeing his minutes increase from about 18 a game last season to potentially around 30 a game. If Haywood provides the steadiness and Mahinmi the exuberance while also limiting his foul trouble, Dallas could find itself with a serviceable tandem.

But, that is to be determined.