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For some Mavs fans, Brendan Haywood is already etching his way into team history.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Haywood proving key in Mavs' late-season surge

By Jeff Case, NBA.com
Posted Mar 4 2010 11:49AM

History will tell which player (Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood or DeShawn Stevenson) that the Mavericks acquired from the Wizards will leave the biggest impression in Dallas. Haywood's quick start out of the gate, though, has some fans in Dallas wondering if he's already become one of the Mavs' all-time best centers.

Granted, the Mavs' list of all-time "great" centers includes Shawn Bradley, James Donaldson and Sam Perkins. But that doesn't lessen Haywood's impact. In 11 games with the Mavs, Haywood has recorded nine or more rebounds seven times and has scored in double figures in all but three.

Prior to the trade for Haywood and Co., Dallas was slipping in the West standings and had gotten bad news, too, when it learned Erick Dampier would be out three to five weeks with a dislocated right middle finger. But Haywood has filled in admirably, bringing his lane-clogging style of defense to Dallas while providing a bit more polished offense than Dampier.

Dallas' coaches credit Jason Kidd with a large part in Dampier's success, citing Kidd's ability to reward his big men.

"It's a different dynamic because I don't think he's ever played with a pass-first point guard like Jason (Kidd)," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's getting a few more opportunities per minute that he had in Washington probably. That provides motivation for him to run. It energizes him defensively. He's been terrific."

Orlando's Dwight Howard, who had 29 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to the Mavs in late February, called Haywood one of the best defensive centers in the league. Haywood has already come through with some big defensive performances for Dallas, getting a key steal against the Hornets last week to help seal a win and recording 20 rebounds in a close home win over the Pacers.

"The adjustment period hasn't been as tough as one might think," Haywood said. "We have great leadership on this team and those guys have been telling me what to do or where to go."

While it's a bit premature to consider Haywood one of the Mavs' all-time best centers, there's no denying his impact with Dallas has been just as important as those of Butler and Stevenson.

G. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
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6035.216.65.17.91.30.4.416.250.763
Last Week's Rank - --
Westbrook has been on a tear the last month, posting double-digit assists in seven of Oklahoma City's 12 games and helping the Thunder to a 10-2 mark. In the last week, he's played even better. While wins over the Wolves, Raptors and Kings are hardly surprising for Oklahoma City, those lesser opponents have given Westbrook the chance to hone his skills. He burned the Kings for 30 points and 13 assists, numbers not overly surprising considering his hot streak. But we were impressed by both his shooting in that game (10-for-19) and overall lately. A career 40.7 percent shooter, Westbrook has shot 50 percent or better in four of his last seven games, a welcome sight considering that Kevin Durant DOES need help every once in a while. With the way he's been playing, Westbrook has surpassed Jeff Green as the Thunder's No. 2 option and might be making a late run at the Most Improved Player trophy.

G. John Salmons, Bucks
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836.020.43.12.91.10.2.470.364.872
Last Week's Rank - --
Give Salmons credit: He knows how to quickly establish himself in a new team's offensive pecking order. Last season, it took Salmons 13 games with the Bulls (who acquired him at the trade deadline) before he put up a 30-point game. This season with the Bucks (who landed him at this season's deadline), Salmons hit the 30-point mark after just seven games. He was an efficient 11-for-20 and added eight rebounds and four assists en route to a 32-point game in Sunday's OT loss to the Hawks. The game had the feeling of a potential first-round playoff matchup (although, as things sit in the East standings today, Milwaukee and Atlanta wouldn't meet). Though Joe Johnson proved to be the hero of the game in OT, Salmons did a solid job of guarding him and limited him to a 10-for-26 night. Despite the loss, Milwaukee wrapped up a 10-4 record last month and can give a lot of the credit to Salmons, who is 7-1 in his Milwaukee tenure.

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Last Week's Rank - --
Caron Butler has gotten plenty of hype and praise for the toughness factor he's added to the Mavs (we even talked about him in this space last week). Yet listen to Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd talk and they're as quick to praise Haywood as they are Butler for the Mavs' standout play lately. Kidd recently told the Dallas Morning News that it's Haywood who's benefitting the most from the trade, citing Haywood's long arms and ability to clog the paint that's made life easier on Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. His stats with Dallas aren't too different from what he was putting up with the Wizards (32.9 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 56.1 percent shooting), but he's got Dallas among the top 10 in blocks per game (5.6, seventh) and has recorded two more more blocks in six of the 11 games he's played with the Mavs. More than anything, he's provided some consistency at center while Dampier is on the mend. If Haywood can keep up his level of play and Dampier is anywhere near serviceable come playoff time, the Mavs' frontline will be a doozy to face in the postseason.

F. Grant Hill, Suns
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Last Week's Rank - --
Hill's scoring average is the lowest it's been in his career, so why does he earn a spot this week? For showing some veteran saavy, taking better care of himself and getting some easy buckets more often. In his last four games, Hill is shooting 50 percent and has scored in the high teens in all but one of those games. He mostly stumbled through January before picking up his offense late last month, something he attributes to getting out on the fast break. "I like to get out and run," Hill recently told the Arizona Republic. "It keeps me loose and involved. I feel like if I run hard, I might be able to create an opportunity for myself or somebody else." In terms of taking better care of himself, Hill has changed up his pregame routine on back-to-back game nights by getting more rest and eating better and he's seeing results. Before Monday's win over Denver, Hill was averaging 8.6 points on 43 percent shooting in the second game of the Suns' 13 back-to-backs. He had 19 points, eight rebounds and two assists in the win over Denver (which came a day after a narrow loss to the Spurs) and thinks he's getting a better feel for how to treat his body in those kinds of games.

F. Nicolas Batum, Blazers
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1923.19.83.71.20.60.5.551.448.913
Last Week's Rank - --
The Timberwolves won't be winning any awards for defensive prowess, but that aside, Batum's game against them was impressive: 31 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals in 33 minutes in a blowout win. Batum started the game and led the charge in the win, scoring 22 points in the third quarter to put the finishing touches on the rout. Batum has started Portland's last six games; they're 5-1 in that stretch and are 5-2 this season with him in the lineup. Playing time aside, the Blazers' coaching staff has been impressed by Batum's on-court progression, all-around skill and confidence. "I think I'm more mature this year," Batum told The Oregonian. "My approach of the game is different. When I play the game I'm different because I see more. I've learned a lot. I'm just more mature than last year." He followed up his game against the Wolves with a 21-point game (on 7-for-11 shooting) as Portland rolled past the Grizzlies. While his stat lines are impressive lately, Batum has been victim throughout his career to coach Nate McMillan's revolving door at small forward. We had Martell Webster in this space earlier this season and his productivity has slumped. We'll be interested to see if Batum can succeed where Webster could not.

The Next Five

G -- Goran Dragic, Suns: Phoenix got a couple of expected wins last week, beating Philly and the Clippers twice (on the road and at home) while suffering a heart-breaker on Sunday in Texas against their rivals in San Antonio. Dragic was nothing special in those three games, playing mostly mop-up duty in the wins and struggling mightily (1-for-4, two points, five assists) in the loss to the Spurs. Dragic gets his place on the list this week, though, for his gritty play in a win over Denver. Why? Because he only took an elbow to the chops from Chauncey Billups, landed on his face after a dunk and, despite it all, helped spark one of the Suns' better wins of the last month. He took command in the second quarter against the Nuggets, hitting 3-pointers, dishing to open teammates and driving fearlessly to the hoop as the Suns blew open a relatively close game by halftime.

G -- Jordan Farmar, Lakers: Farmar had a solid week, providing a better-than-the-stats-show five-point game in L.A.'s comeback win over the Nuggets. making a couple of nice buckets and playing solid backup minutes. He was even better against the Pacers on Tuesday night, putting in 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. In both games, Farmar didn't force his offense and did a solid job of running the offense. He's obviously made some good decisions lately (he's shooting 60.7 percent over his last five games) and has seen his minutes per game rise over his last 10 games, too. "Some nights you're not going to have the opportunities. Against Denver, I got two looks. I went two for two, but I only got two shots," Farmar told the Los Angeles Times. "So, that's how it goes sometimes. Sometimes you're going to get 10, 12, 14 shots. Sometimes you get one, two shots. You just got to take it."

C -- Brook Lopez, Nets: We've received notes from readers here at Five on the Rise Central throughout the season asking why Lopez wasn't a regular in the weekly listings. Being the best player on the NBA's worst team isn't something to write home about ... and it also isn't something that will get you on our list. But Lopez's emergence this season despite the Nets' awful play is impossible not to notice. His season's worth of work on the block came to a head on Saturday as the Nets pulled off a stunner by topping the Celtics in Boston. Lopez was in the forefront of the win. Aside from a pretty gaudy stat line (25 points, 7-for-11 shooting, seven rebounds), he hit two free throws with 1:02 left in the game to seal the win for New Jersey. We can't guarantee Lopez will take up residence in the Five on the Rise again, especially given the Nets' struggles. But he's no doubt on the short list of young centers on average-to-poor teams (along with Marc Gasol, Andrew Bogut and David Lee) that will likely be in line for even bigger things next season and beyond.

F -- Zach Randolph, Grizzlies: For as well as Randolph played in the first half of the season (when he got his first All-Star berth), he's played even better in the second half. He's upped his averages (21.8 ppg, 13.1 rpg) in the post-All-Star section of things and gets a nod on our list for his game Saturday against the Knicks. The jumping-challenged Randolph managed to paste his former team for 31 points and a career-best 25 rebounds (including 10 offensive boards). He took charge down the stretch and teamed with Rudy Gay to put together a 13-2 run to close out the Knicks. With his impressive stat line in the Big Apple, Randolph joined Carlos Boozer and Dwight Howard as the only players this season to record 20-20 games. As he's done on other occasions this season, Randolph was again providing a clinic on how positioning (and not pure jumping ability) is often the key to rebounding. "That's what I do. I rebound. I just try to put myself in the right place," Randolph told the Commercial-Appeal. "There's nothing like wining in Madison Square Garden."

F -- Carl Landry, Kings: Most players will say there's nothing like playing well against the team that just traded you. That's exactly what Landry experienced on Wednesday against the Rockets. He put up 22 and 11 on Houston and had a good time doing it, talking a little trash with Rockets center Chuck Hayes in the process. "Chuck had a long night, didn't he?" Landry said. "It was fun. I didn't get that opportunity much in practice when I was here. He tried to get me with his spin move, but it didn't work. We talked a little trash, but that was all. That's my man. I'll probably go over to his house tonight and get a plate (of food)." Aside from the nice night in Houston, Landry had a solid week overall, scoring double digits in each of Sacramento's last four games. He hasn't been upset by the move from a playoff contender to a rebuilding squad. Landry has also benefitted from the absence of Jason Thompson (who will miss up to two weeks with a back injury) and is not only playing well with star guard Tyreke Evans, but compliments center Spencer Hawes, too. As has been the case for Landry throughout his career, he's endeared himself to Sacramento's coaching staff with his hard work, hustle and versatility. "It's getting better every day," Landry told The Sacramento Bee. "And I'm telling you; this is a good team, a special team. We're not having a great season this year, only won 19 games ... There are guys here who want to work hard, who want to be good. And growing up, I learned the value of working hard."

NBA.com's Five on the Rise is a weekly look at young players and resurgent veterans who have yet to reach stardom or who have regained the form of their younger day and, most of all, have made the biggest impact for their team in the last week. These rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you have an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail.

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