Switch has flipped on for Samuel Dalembert

DALLAS -- Samuel Dalembert must have thought he was dreaming Saturday morning.

The play the Mavericks planned to run to open that night’s game against the Sacramento Kings was designed to get Dalembert a 16-foot jump shot. It was Dirk Nowitzki’s job to set a pick for him.

“You should have seen that smile on my face in shootaround,” Dalembert said with a laugh after the Mavs’ win. “You ever seen the Kool-Aid smile? That was me. I’m like, ‘What? A play for me? Wow.’”

Dalembert deserves to get a bone or two thrown his way. He drilled that jump shot and has done just about everything else right recently.

The big man known for inconsistency has been the one consistent bright spot during the Mavs’ marathon homestand, averaging 9.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 23.7 minutes during the past seven games.

Basically, Dalembert has been the athletic, active big man the Mavs hoped they were getting when they signed the journeyman late last summer.

“He’s been doing a lot of really good things,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who has been frustrated by Dalembert’s ups and downs this season. “Maybe it took him a while to get things. I’m really not sure. But his teammates have been behind him really for most of the year in a big way.

“I think he really realizes how important he is to our whole thing. He’s doing great.”

Dalembert readily admits he struggled finding his niche during the first half of the season with his fifth team in five years. He knew the Mavs needed him to rebound and provide an interior defensive presence, but it was difficult for him to get a feel for games while playing limited minutes as part of the Mavs’ three-center rotation.

The solution for Dalembert was pretty simple: Play with reckless abandon at all times, not worrying about picking up fouls.

“It was a little challenge in the beginning,” said Dalembert, whose numbers have increased almost across the board in the second half of the season. “After the All-Star [break], I kind of picked it up a little bit and figured out how I could really contribute and impact the game before my time is up.”

At this point, Dalembert has proven himself as the Mavs’ best starting center since Tyson Chandler, faint as that praise may be.

Nowitzki actually compared Dalembert to Chandler before the season, because of his length and athleticism. While Dalembert will never be that type of vocal leader, he at least is finally filling the void of a high-energy, rim-protecting, rebound-snatching center.

“He’s doing all the things we need him to do,” Nowitzki said. “It’s been great.”

If Dalembert keeps it up, maybe that Kool-Aid smile will become contagious.