Overlooked Brendan Haywood deserves nod

Brendan Haywood just can't catch a break around here. When he showed up in the Josh Howard trade with Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson, he quickly caught everyone's eye with some impressive play.

Then Erick Dampier got healthy, got his starting job back and Haywood was perceived to have sulked. That summer, with Dampier on his way out, Haywood thought he had the starting job sewn up, and why not, coach Rick Carlisle promised it to him. Along comes Tyson Chandler, who goes on to change everything we always thought we knew about the Mavs.

Now Chandler's gone and this 6-foot-11, energetic French kid is stealing the spotlight.

But Haywood isn't letting Ian Mahinmi's surprise rise get him down. The 7-foot veteran is just going about his business and getting the job done on the defensive end, a significant reason why the Mavs are the third-ranked defensive team in the league.

Haywood, bouncing back from tough night against skilled Lakers center Andrew Bynum, logged two of his higher-minute games in the back-to-back set against the Clippers and Jazz, and for good reason.

Wednesday night in L.A., coach Rick Carlisle tried to give Dirk Nowitzki a break by putting him against offensively limited center DeAndre Jordan while the 7-foot Haywood took on athletic and rugged power forward Blake Griffin, who averages 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Haywood, playing 26 minutes, used his size effectively and held Griffin to 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting (Griffin did miss some point-blank attempts and he did get to the free-throw line eight times, making just two). And what happened with Jordan, who averages 7.8 points a game? He went off for a season-high 19.

In the big win Thursday at Utah, Haywood logged 29 minutes -- nine more than his season average -- and made smooth-scoring center Al Jefferson work for his 22 points on 18 shots. Haywood also supplied three assists and he was a perfect 4-of-4 -- no kidding -- from the free-throw line.

Carlisle called Haywood's game against Jefferson and the Jazz probably his best work of the season.

On the surface, Haywood's 4.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in the first three games of the road trip don't leap off the screen, but he's been a steady presence in the paint, the area of top concern entering the season.