Chris Kaman (22 points) offers self-critique

DALLAS -- Be careful about patting big man Chris Kaman on the back. He might bite off your hand.

Sure, the Mavericks are 3-0 since Kaman returned from a strained right calf. And he’s been a major contributor in all three games, serving as a remarkably efficient offensive weapon, averaging 18 points on 70.6 percent shooting.

But Kaman isn’t close to satisfied with his performance. He’d rather point out his defensive deficiencies than discuss his offensive efficiency.

Take, for example, Kaman’s performance in Wednesday’s 109-104 win over the Toronto Raptors. Most centers would be pretty proud of a 22-point, eight-rebound, three-assist performance in their first start with a new team. Kaman was disappointed in his defense and pointed out that he needs to improve his conditioning after sitting out three weeks to deal with his sore calf.

“I know I need to improve,” the 7-footer said. “That’s all I’m worried about right now. I’m going to try to continue to do what I’ve been doing, just being consistent, taking smart shots. I’ve been in this league long enough. I can play basketball. I know what I’m doing. I’m going to continue to try to assert myself offensively and defensively, but I’m more worried about defense right now than offense.

“I can play basketball on the offensive end. I know what I’m doing there. I’ve got to get better with this team concept with the defense. I’m kind of running around a little bit lost sometimes. I need to get that taken care of.”

Kaman was asked about his clutch, 11-foot jump hook that stretched the Mavs’ lead to seven points in the final minute. He countered by mentioning the Mavs wouldn’t have needed a big bucket at that point if he didn’t give up a couple of drives to Toronto’s Amir Johnson down the stretch.

It’s not that Kaman is discouraged. He knew there’d be work to do after his layoff. It’s just that the 10-year veteran holds himself to a high standard, and he’s not reaching it right now as a defender or rebounder.

“I’ll be honest with you: I get tired,” Kaman said. “I’m dragging a little bit and my defense shows.”

The trick for Kaman, coach Rick Carlisle and athletic trainer Casey Smith is to work Kaman back into excellent shape without working him too hard. It’s a delicate balancing act while he’s helping the Mavs win and continuing to nurse the calf.

But it’s important, especially considering Kaman’s injury history. That’s why Kaman didn’t start his first two games with the Mavs -- so Carlisle could easily limit his minutes.

“Right now, it’s just important for me to understand that he’s got to be brought along a certain way,” said Carlisle, who played Kaman a season-high 33 minutes Wednesday with Elton Brand unavailable. “We can’t just throw him out there for 37, 38 minutes and expect him to go the right way. He’s going to get tired. It’s going to cause lapses of concentration. Physically, he’s just not there yet.”

Kaman says the calf continues to feel better. He hopes to be 100 percent by the end of next week.

In the meantime, he’s giving the Mavs a major boost as a skilled big man who can score in a lot of different ways. That includes posting up and dropping a right-handed, mid-range jump hook on the game’s most critical offensive possession, a move Kaman worked on all summer to revise the book on him that says he relies heavily on his left hand.

“Lucky shot, you know?,” Kaman said. “That’s what Dirk says anyway.”

Know what else Dirk says? Kaman’s the best offensive big man to ever be on his team.

Now, get out of Kaman’s way. He has work to do.