Will Peja Stojakovic start tonight?

DALLAS -- If the plan is to eventually use the 6-foot-10 Peja Stojakovic as the starting small forward, will Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle go ahead and plug him in immediately?

Stojakovic will make his Mavs debut tonight against the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers. Stojakovic hasn't played since Nov. 26 and he's played in just eight games this season, averaging slightly more than 13 minutes in those games.

"He's worked hard, so he's ready to start playing a little bit," Carlisle said after Monday's morning shootaround. "He's as ready as he's going to be short of playing in a game. So tonight's the night we've got to get him out there a little bit."

Carlisle has often decided on a starting five by keeping the guys he wants coming 0ff the bench coming off the bench. That's why Shawn Marion hasn't just stepped in to replace Caron Butler, which woud have been a logical move. Carlisle prefers to utilize him in a reserve role paired with Jason Terry.

Marion, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Sasha Pavlovic, no longer on the team after being waived following consecutive 10-day contracts, have filled in as the starting small forward.

In the last two games, Carlisle has been successful with a starting lineup that included J.J. Barea, who is playing the best basketball of the season, if not his career, at shooting guard and Stevenson at small forward.

But, even if Stojakovic isn't ready to log heavy minutes such as the 31 he averaged last season in 62 games with the New Orleans Hornets, Carlisle might as well set his starting five with 32 games remaining in the regular season.

Of course, there remains the issue of Roddy Beaubois' impending return and how he's introduced into the rotation.

But, that's not here yet. As for Stojakovic, if he's going to be this team's starting forward moving forward -- and that's not factoring in a potential trade -- then Carlisle might as well start him tonight against the Cavs.

"He can shoot the ball, we all know that," Jason Kidd said. "He's a competitor and a veteran guy, so he knows how to play. For us, we've got to use his strengths, get him in the fold and make him comfortable."