Players always say they don't care who they face to open the playoffs. Don't believe it.
Brandan Wright, for one, knows which one of the three options still open he wants no part of when he makes his postseason debut this weekend, and for good reason.
The slender, 6-foot-10 forward-turned-center in this successful maiden season with the Mavs has no interest in a first-round pairing with the Los Angeles Lakers. The former lottery pick doesn't fear the purple-and-gold. He just wants to play.
Coach Rick Carlisle has made it clear that there's little room on the floor for the 210-pounder -- dubbed by some the Human Exclamation Point for his skinny frame and ridiculous bounce -- when L.A.'s 7-foot, 285-pound Andrew Bynum is the giant he must guard.
"I wish we allowed steroids because he’d be the perfect case," Mavs owner Mark Cuban joked. "That’s not going to happen."
No, it's not. The Mavs have benefited from Wright's energy, quickness, soft hands and ability to finish at the rim (he's shooting 62.4 percent), so losing minutes to circumstance would be unfortunate. Starting center Brendan Haywood will be forced into large minutes against the Lakers, like the 38 he logged in the most recent meeting. In the five games since, Haywood has played between 14 and 21.
Wright got nine minutes in that April 15 overtime loss, mostly when Bynum took a breather. However, Wright's final minute of action in the fourth quarter with Bynum in illustrated the mayhem that matchup can cause. He slapped at Bynum for an and-1 and then got dunked on from behind by a monster Bynum putback.
"I believe he has to get on the floor because he poses a different threat against a team like the Lakers," said guard and alley-oop partner Jason Terry. "First of all, he’s going to outrun their bigs and he’s going to use his athletic ability. So he’s a factor, he’s a factor."
Not surprisingly, Wright, only 24 and healthy really for the first time in his career, concurs.
"I agree 100 percent with Jet," Wright said. "I feel like I can be a factor on the court no matter who we play. In a couple days we’ll be finding out who we play and I’m going to be doing the best I can no matter who we do play."
If the Mavs move back into the No. 6 seed at season's end Thursday night, the Lakers will be the matchup at No. 3, assuming they hold off the Clippers. At No. 7, Dallas will face No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder. The San Antonio Spurs locked up the top seed with Monday night's win.
How has Wright fared in four games against the Lakers? One DNP-CD, 4.3 points, 2.0 rebounds in 12.0 minutes (17 minutes in one game with Haywood out) and 50 percent shooting, well below his season average.
In four games against the Thunder, Wright played in one. He rode the bench on Dec. 29 and Jan. 2 and missed the finale in March with a concussion. The one game he did play on Feb. 1 served as his launching pad for rotation minutes the rest of the season and as an attention-grabber for the Thunder. With Haywood out, Wright played 25 minutes and posted 12 points and three blocks, but only a lone rebound, a glaring area of inconsistency in his game.
"His rebounding is getting better, his rebounding in traffic is getting a lot better," Cuban said. "If he was bigger where he could hold his position, his post-up moves are just phenomenal. Around the basket he's an incredible finisher."
Wright remains a developing player. His 48 games this season are nine more than his previous career high in 2008-09 with the Golden State Warriors, the team that drafted him in the lottery five years ago. They tired of his injuries and traded Wright to New Jersey last season.
"I feel like I’m still a young player, still got a lot of years left in this league to do a lot of good things," Wright said. "That’s the way I look at it. Maybe the first couple of years I have to prove myself that I am a lottery pick, but after that just go out there and play the game."
That's hard to do though if you can't get on the court with any consistency, and that's the threat the Lakers pose.
"Rick is a smart coach. He’ll use him where it makes sense to use him, right?" Cuban said. "We have a history of playing to our strengths and where matchups work, we take advantage of them. He’s not going to be a good matchup against Bynum, but there’s areas for him. If he’s making hard cuts and hard rolls to the basket, then it might be that we have the advantage because he’s so quick."
The advantage just might be in not facing the Lakers.