Mavs desperately need healthy Dampier

DENVER -- Mavericks fans have been looking forward to getting rid of Erick Dampier for years.

That time will likely come this summer, unless he agrees to return at a drastically reduced salary. As of now, the Mavs just hope Dampier can get healthy for the stretch run.

It's not a coincidence that the Mavs became a miserable defensive team when Dampier's left knee started swelling. Since early January, Dampier has either been hobbled or watching from the bench in a suit as opponents run a 48-minute layup line.

"We’ve got to have a healthy Damp," Dirk Nowitzki said after another defensive debacle in Denver. "If you look at all the good defensive teams, they’ve all got shot-blockers to protect the rim. Damp was great, moving well early in the season. I feel like over this last month, with his knee issue, he hasn’t really been a factor in the paint. That’s where it all starts.

"Obviously, we’ve got some other issues with keeping guys in front of us and blown coverages here and there. But it all starts with a presence at the rim. Hopefully he can away a little bit here, get a break, get off his knee some and be ready to go for the final push to the playoffs. We definitely need him."

Dampier said the soreness in his knee isn't too bad, but there is some swelling again. He's optimistic that he can get completely healthy with a lot of rest and some work in the weight room during the All-Star break.

The Mavs' playoff hopes rely on the big man. Maybe he isn't all that overpaid after all.