Samuel Dalembert has picked up his game just when the Mavericks needed it

Dalembert celebrates after hitting a jump shot to open the game, and then looks to the bench. - Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The first half of Dalembert's season was forgettable, but since the All-Star Break, he's really starting to come into his own -- and not a moment too soon.

On Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings, the Mavericks opened the game with a familiar set.

Bringing the ball up court, Jose Calderon dumped the ball off to Shawn Marion in the high post. Monta Ellis started up from the baseline, then cut across the lane. One big screened down and the other popped up, freeing up space for a wide open elbow jumper. He shot without any hesitation.

Standing on the bench, Vince Carter raised one of his arm with the shot still halfway to its destination, and then the second in celebration when it rattled in to give the Mavericks their first two points. Clearly, he wasn't surprised.


Samuel Dalembert has screened down to free Dirk Nowitzki on that play a hundred times this season, but in this moment, it was Dirk with the down pick and Sam nailing an 18-foot jump shot.

"You should have seen that smile on my face when I was shooting," he laughed. "Have you ever seen the Kool-Aid smile? That was me."

It was a flawless Nowitzki impression, but that was only one part of his 15 point (7-of-8 shooting), six rebound, three block performance on the night. Over the past couple of weeks, his Tyson Chandler impression has been much more impressive.

Since the All-Star Break, Dalembert has averaged 7.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game while shooting 55 percent. In his last eight games, he's played even better and is nearing a double-double -- 8.8 points on 67 percent shooting, 9.1 boards and 2.4 blocks in 23 minutes.

After some erratic minutes and a rotation role that was clearly defined yet, Dalembert had some early season struggles and looked often looked uncomfortable on the floor. But his consistency has helped eliminate his worries.

"I know I'm playing the first five, six minutes in the first quarter," Dalembert said, describing his strategy each game. "Don't worry about fouls, just go out there, study the team your playing against ... knowing the tendencies, and really try to contribute defensively and offensively."

We saw what happened last time Dirk got the chance to play beside an All-Star center. I know Sam isn't that close to 2011 Tyson, but during this stretch, his consistency on both ends of the floor has been absolutely vital because no other big on the Mavericks roster can match up with some of the Western Conference monsters like he does.

I asked Dirk whether this was the best the center rotation has been since Tyson, and while he didn't directly answer my question, he provided excellent insight on what Dalembert does bring (after a joke, of course).

"I said it before the season that Sammy can bring some of the stuff Tyson brought because he's so athletic and so long, and if he uses his length he's a factor in there. He's fast, he can run, he can jump. He's an athlete, and that's definitely a plus next to me.

The Mavericks have eight regular season games left, and they badly need Dalembert's continued production. On Tuesday, Andrew Bogut comes to town. The next game, the Mavericks have a rematch with DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers. Dallas will have to deal with DeMarcus Cousins, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Marc Gasol before the season finishes.

I'll write 1,000 words about Brandan Wright being awesome another day, but right now, I'm just going to point out that Wright -- bless his heart -- is going to struggle to defend every one of those guys, and you know Dirk and DeJuan Blair aren't going to fare any better. For better or for worse, the Mavericks must have Sammy D playing down the stretch, and playing well.

But as long as he's still having fun out there like his , I'd figure the Mavericks will be alright. After hitting that jumper, Dalembert first pumped his fist, and then pointed to the bench to his fellow bigs.

"I had to represent for the big men, so I had a play, and I couldn't let my guys down," Dalembert said, smiling the whole time. "I had so much pressure from all the bigs, 'you got a play, you got to hit that shot.'"

Carlisle called the Dirk play for Dalembert long before the tip off, and so before the game, Sam was out practicing that shot. After all, that play can only be brought out of Carlisle's bag of tricks every so often.

"You got to represent, because you might never have another play [called for you] again."

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