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Will Mavs have solid center tandem after all?

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle desperately wants Brendan Haywood to play to his potential. It was the coach who traveled to Haywood's North Carolina doorstep on the first night of free agency last summer to let the big fella know how much he and the franchise loves him.

Remember when Haywood was a double-double machine when he first arrived? Yes, Erick Dampier was injured, paving the way for Haywood to hog minutes at center. Clearly, he hasn't handled Tyson Chandler's arrival and subsequent explosion onto the scene very well and it's shown in his worst statistical season of his career (4.1 points, 4.7 rebounds), if not even more so in the way he's carried himself.

Haywood's play has been so suspect this season that raw, third-year center Ian Mahinmi has made plays to further whittle down Haywood's 17.0 minutes a game. Ultimately, Carlisle knows that the veteran Haywood, who is in the first year of a earning a guaranteed $40-plus-million from the Mavs, can be an effective backup center if he applies himself night in and night out. Carlisle also knows he needs an effective Haywood behind a sometimes foul-prone Chandler if the Mavs are going to make a playoff push.

He shows promise in sporadic peeks. Every so often, Haywood plays inspired as he did Wednesday against Sacramento (12 points, 10 rebounds in 22 minutes -- his first double-double and only third double-digit rebounding game of the season). Thursday night at Phoenix, he logged just 11 minutes, but he got in early and was effective with seven points (on 3-of-4 shooting) and five rebounds.

He still remains an embarrassingly low 35.4 percent from the free throw line, which is a real problem in keeping him on the floor, and that didn't change over the last two games. He missed 6-of-9.

Before the season, the Mavs' front office believed the team's length with the 7-1 Chandler and 7-foot Haywood and Dirk Nowitzki, plus the long and lanky Shawn Marion would make for a strong matchup against the Lakers' tall front line of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom in a playoff series. Dallas' height is a great advantage over the Spurs, whose one weakness is length inside beyond Tim Duncan.

But, that means Haywood must play as if it matters. Carlisle has consistently taken a tact of positive reinforcement with Haywood, always pointing to the extra conditioning work he puts in, etc., to try to get through to him.

Ultimately, it's up to Haywood to decide if he wants to be an integral part of a team that has been all about togetherness and seemingly has a golden opportunity to make a bold statement in the postseason.