For the first time, the Dallas Mavericks will get an up-close look at what could have been.
This past summer the Mavs were hoping that they could sign Dwight Howard to a four-year, $88 million free-agent contract. Howard, instead, signed with the Houston Rockets.
For the first time since that three-hour recruiting conversation with Howard in the first week of July, the Mavs (3-2) will face the game’s most dominant center when they play the Rockets (3-1) at 7 p.m. Monday at the Toyota Center.
“I’ve watched three or four of their preseason games and he’s playing at a really high level,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after Sunday’s practice at the University of Houston. “He’s not playing the full complement of minutes, so the stats aren’t telling the real story, but he’s got that team juiced up.
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“We know all too well how good he is. That’s why we were trying to get him.”
Monday’s game could go a long way toward determining how well the Mavs were able to improve their frontline over the off-season.
In addition to the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard starting at center, the Rockets plan on starting 7-foot, 255-pound Omer Asik at power forward. Those two will test a Mavs front wall that’s led by newcomer Samuel Dalembert, who said he’s enjoyed some success against Howard.
“I’ve been pretty good against him in the past,” Dalembert said. “Hopefully he doesn’t hit me anymore. It was a little incident between us two, but we’re cool, we’re cool. We don’t have any problems.”
Carlisle, though, is less worried about Howard and company than he is about his own squad.
Backup center Brandan Wright said Sunday that he doesn’t know if his fractured left shoulder will heal in time for him to be able to play in the Oct. 30 regular-season opener against the Atlanta Hawks. Two other centers, Bernard James and DeJuan Blair, have been inconsistent in the first five games.
“At this point I’m really more concerned about where we are in our training camp more so than the strategy for [Monday],” Carlisle said. “Whatever they put out there is going to be good for them and hard to guard, because they’ve got a heck of a team.
“They’ll be one of the favorites to go all the way. We respect their roster and all the guys they’ve got there, but we’re going to start the guys we feel we need to start and see what happens.”
Calderon a spark
It took just one game for point guard Jose Calderon to make an impact on the Mavs’ offense.
After sitting out the first four games with a strained left hamstring, the nine-year veteran finished with 13 points, five assists and no turnovers in 21 minutes during Saturday’s 89-83 victory over Charlotte.
That got the attention of forward Dirk Nowitzki, who remembers the Mavs stumbling just to get off a decent shot so many times in the waning seconds last season.
“Last year we had some suspect decision-making in close games and that ended up costing us some games,” Nowitzki said. “So he should be the guy that handles the ball and gets the guys in the right spots and gets the guys the ball where we need it to be down the stretch, and we should be able to execute a lot better this year.”