Heated competition set for 14th spot

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas --When the Dallas Mavericks open the preseason Tuesday night at home against the Washington Wizards, there will be interesting areas to observe, such as who starts at shooting guard and small forward, as well as the anticipated debut of rookie Dominique Jones.

But, the most heated competition going on will be for the 14th spot on the roster and the important role as backup power forward behind Dirk Nowitzki. OK, so maybe that role is better defined as backup backup power forward because small forward Shawn Marion and center Tyson Chandler are expected to play the bulk of the minutes there during the 13 minutes or so a game when Nowitzki is not on the floor.

Still, outside of Nowitzki, the Mavs don't have a true power forward. They made it clear what type of player they were looking for when they passed on 6-foot-9 inside presence Ike Diogu (the Garland product joined the Detroit Pistons on Monday on a make-good contract) and signed a pair of power-forward perimeter shooters to make-good contracts in Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal. The Mavs also brought in shooting guard/small forward Adam Haluska and undersized guard Dee Brown.

All figure to busy during the preseason.

"Last year we only had seven exhibition games. This year we have eight and no back-to-back so we are going to have to use all eight to look at these unknowns," Carlisle said. "The possible 14th spot, the different big guys, what they can do."

The big guys are young and unproven centers, 6-11 Ian Mahinmi and 7-foot Alexis Ajinca. They're part of the Mavs' overcrowded, four-headed center position behind Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler.

Ajinca was acquired from Charlotte along with Chandler in the Erick Dampier trade. Ajincawas put on the trading block, but obviously the club wasn't able to move him. That could change once the preseason begins. Carlisle was talking up Ajinca's attributes Wednesday and his solid performances in the early days of camp.

"I'm very certain there's going to be teams calling us about trade possibilities once they start seeing some of these younger guys in exhibition games," Carlisle said. "But, we'll see about that."

*The Mavs are back at SMU Thursday for two practices, a morning and late afternoon session. The annual Fan Jam will be held at the American Airlines Center Monday night before the preseason opener on Tuesday.