Bernard James learned some valuable lessons earlier this season when he spent nearly two months playing basketball in China.
For one, the center realized he would much rather be boxing out and defending NBA players than doing a similar job overseas. The scales of justice on the basketball court, James figures, are more in his favor in the United States.
“The Chinese League is actually a lot more physical than the NBA,” James said. “They don’t make calls. It might be because the refs are just not that good over there, or because they just want to mess with the Americans.
“But they don’t make a lot of calls, so you’ve got to learn how to play no matter what’s happening, whether you get fouled or not. I was able to carry that back here and apply it here.”
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That physicality has enabled James to carve out some meaningful minutes in his second tour with the Dallas Mavericks.
Even coach Rick Carlisle has noticed the swagger James added to his game since he signed his first 10-day contract nearly three weeks ago.
“He’s more experienced,” Carlisle said. “He’s had to shoulder the responsibility of being a top player on an international team, that for China, is a high-level team.
“There are a lot of expectations. So taking on that responsibility and doing it well is going to make him a better player.”
The Mavericks (40-22) hope James continues to prosper when they face the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night at the Moda Center.
The Mavericks signed James to a 10-day contract Feb. 11, and to a second 10-day deal Feb. 21. After the second deal expires, NBA rules force the team to either release the player or sign him for the remainder of the season.
The Mavericks, therefore, signed James for the rest of the season Monday.
The commitment was an easy one to make after watching how active and physical James has become around the basket.
“I figured I was doing well and I kind of figured they would sign me,” James said. “It’s good that it happened and I don’t have to think about it anymore, but I guess it was sort of expected.”
To gauge James’ impact on the court, look no further than Monday’s 102-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. James failed to score, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots, but he was a game-high plus-23 points in 25 minutes.
In basketball terminology, that’s a phenomenal ratio.
“It speaks to the importance of energy, being in the right position and commitment to defense, his quickness,” Carlisle said. “When we were double-teaming pick-and-rolls, his mobility to get to places and block shots; he got some big rebounds. Those are all winning plays.”
After being drafted in the second round in 2012 out of Florida State, James spent two uneventful seasons with the Mavericks. He was then the last cut from this year’s training camp before regaining the Mavericks’ favor following his stint in China.
With Tyson Chandler (hip) listed as probable and Chandler Parsons (ankle) slated to miss his sixth consecutive game, James has been receiving more playing time.
It’s been a career of lessons learned for James, who is averaging 4.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 17.4 minutes in five games this season.
“I’m just trying to come in and play good defense,” James said. “[Monday] night wasn’t really a pick-and-roll game as far as they were kind of packing the paint on us, so I didn’t get a whole lot of touches on that end.
“But I made sure my defense didn’t slip, and I contributed that way.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760