With Lamar Odom gone, Vince Carter thriving in new role

DALLAS – The decision to dump Lamar Odom didn’t just lift a black cloud from the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room. It also helped unleash Vince Carter.

Carter’s role changed when the Mavs had to adjust the rotation to make up for Odom’s absence. With Shawn Marion playing the vast majority of the minutes at power forward when Dirk Nowitzki rests, as was the case during the Mavs’ title run, Carter now comes off the bench and plays almost solely small forward.

“It gives us another attacker out there at the small forward position,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “so that’s a plus.”

That’s putting it mildly based on Carter’s recent production. He has averaged 13.3 points on 46.8 percent shooting in the last eight games, dating to the night in Memphis when Mark Cuban made the decision to get rid of Odom after their heated halftime conversation. Carter has put up an average of 20 points in the Mavs’ last three games, including scoring all of his team-high 19 points in the second half of Friday’s 104-94 win over the Golden State Warriors.

There were long stretches after the All-Star break when it looked like there wasn’t much life left in Carter’s 35-year-old legs. That’s no longer a concern, not after watching Carter have a handful of highlight-reel, high-above-the-rim flashbacks to vintage Vinsanity this week.

“I’ve taken the time to really take care of myself to make sure I’m ready and make sure I’m healthy,” Carter said. “I didn’t want to not be ready for this moment -- and that’s the playoffs. Just make sure I’m in my rhythm and make sure my body is feeling good. And I feel great.”

He looks great in his new role, which allows the 20,000-plus-point career scorer to utilize his quickness against bigger defenders. Carter’s 3-point range also spaces the floor for Jason Terry and Nowitzki to work when they’re on the floor with him.

“Like I told them from the beginning, I really don’t care what my role is, where he puts me on the floor, how he puts me in the game,” said Carter, an eight-time All-Star whose sole goal at this point of his career is to earn his first championship ring. “Just know when it’s my turn, I’m going to come in and be ready to play. I’ve been that way, and I’ve just tried to step my aggression up just a little more."

Carter adds that he’s not trying to step on any toes, but that’s far from an issue. The Mavs, who rank in the NBA’s bottom third in offensive efficiency, need him to be in attack mode.

Carlisle has emphasized to Carter that being aggressive is a major part of his job description. It isn’t a coincidence that the Mavs have scored 100 points in four straight games -- for just the second time this season -- and hit triple digits in six of the last seven games.

“He’s one of our most versatile players, and the fact that he attacks the rim is important for us because we don’t have a lot of guys that get in the paint that well,” said big man Brendan Haywood, who played at North Carolina with Carter way back when. “The timing is great. This is the time of the year that you want guys to be peaking, and it seems like that’s what he’s doing right now.”

Consider that a side benefit to sending Odom home to Los Angeles.