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Dalembert could be missing ingredient for Mavericks

POSTED: Oct 22, 2013 9:47 PM ET

By Fran Blinebury, for


Some help inside could help Dirk Nowitzki's game soar.

Sometimes the magic comes from a casual glance across a crowded room. Eyes meet, bells ring, fireworks explode.

Mavericks' Preview: Dirk Interview

Sometimes it's not nearly as romantic. Fingers on a keyboard, you've got mail and the black and white words and numbers that just somehow work.

No matter how they came together, the Mavericks and Samuel Dalembert would seem a match made in heaven. Or one made out of desperation.

During the past two seasons, after they let 2011 championship center Tyson Chandler walk out the door, the Mavs have had a gaping hole in the middle of their lineup. For the last three years, since he was patrolling the lane for the 76ers, Dalembert has been a shot blocker and a rim protector searching for a place to feel wanted.

"I just looked at things from last year, and this team just needed one more ingredient," the 32-year old Dalembert said at the start of training camp. "We can score. Scoring is no issue for us. It's just the defense and giving up second-chance opportunities.

"When [the Mavs] called me, I didn't think twice. A veteran team that wants to win, and everybody here knows what to do."

The trouble is that the Mavs hadn't done it defensively since Chandler was allowed to take his paint-clogging, shot-blocking, edgy skills to New York in the aftermath of the title. Gone was the size, the leaping ability and the snarling swagger that made things difficult for opponents who tried to get close to the bucket.

"Defensively in the first practice, he was very noticeable for us," said coach Rick Carlisle. "For a big guy, he moves well, protects the rim and he can run out and guard pick and rolls away from the basket and recover. And we're going to need him to do those things.

"Rim protection, defense and rebounding are going to be the main points of emphasis for Sam. If he can do those things at a higher level than he's done the last couple years, he's going to be a major factor for us."

While the Mavericks were in the dark defensively over the past couple of seasons, Dalembert was just as lost. He's played for three teams -- Sacramento, Houston and Milwaukee -- in the past three seasons since leaving Philadelphia, where he averaged 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in just 26 minutes per game.

"There's been some downsides," Dalembert said. "But there was some good, too. I got to play with some good teammates and got to learn. I leave it behind and move forward."

"My role is to come in here, rebound, block shots and bring the intimidation defensively. No. 1, we got to synch together as a team and be the best scrambling team in the league. My job is to be vocal and try to make my teammates more comfortable guarding the ball and be precise where to send the ball. It's going to come down to communication.

"I get the opportunity to be on a good team again," he said. "When I was in Philly, that's the old Sam. We competed. And now I think we will utilize my skills again. That's the old Sam. I see an opportunity for him."

Mavericks' Preview: New Backcourt

As a free agent, the 32-year-old signed a two-year, $7.5-million contract with a Mavs team that was desperately searching for a match.

"I like somebody that's aggressive around the paint and that's going to attack every time somebody comes in there," said small forward Marion said. "It's not going to be an open lane to the basket.

"When somebody is able to protect the paint it makes it a lot easier for us, and it makes us want to defend even more."

While the fortunes of the Mavs will still depend largely on the offensive output of Dirk Nowitzki, even Nowitzki -- who is recovered from knee surgery a year ago -- welcomes the defensive help from Dalembert.

"I think Sammy should bring some of the stuff that really meshes well with my game, and that's rebounding and protecting the paint," he said. "He's always been one of the best rebounding-per-minute guys, and his length should really help us around the basket."

Dalembert is trying to bounce back from last season with the Bucks, where his numbers -- 6.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while playing only 16.1 minutes per game -- were a disappointment.

"It was a down year," Dalembert said. "It was one of those moments where you can take it one way or you take it another way as a challenge, and that's what I've done. I've got a new opportunity here, and I'm not going to let that slide down."

For Carlisle, it could be like seeing the dream date walk through the door.

"We have to establish ourselves as a solid defensive team," he said. "We were OK last year, but we weren't good enough. I think we finished 18th or 19th in the league. We got to get way up above that. It's my responsibility to make sure the guys know how important it is.

"We need enthusiasm and energy. If he [Dalembert] can start with those two components, he's going to be a factor for us."

Three points

Mavericks' Preview: Coach's Corner

1. When Cuban promised he'd get him some free-agent help, was Nowitzki thinking of Ellis, Dalembert, Calderon and Blair?

2. Mavs are trying to pass off Dalembert as second coming of Tyson Chandler, comparing stats. But what about the defense?

3. For a team trying to reload, the Mavs are leaning heavily on 35-year-old Nowitzki, 35-year-old Marion and 36-year-old Carter.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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