Opening Tip: Dalembert 'not afraid to compete'

DALLAS -- This is a dark time for Samuel Dalembert.

It was tough enough for Dalembert, who was so excited to sign with a team he felt needed him this summer, to be stripped of his starting job. Bad got worse for the big man Saturday night, when he got a DNP-CD against the Milwaukee Bucks, the team he couldn’t wait to leave after last season.

“I should be upset and be mad, but I just don’t try to take it personal,” Dalembert said. “I try to take it as a challenge and then keep getting better.”

Dalembert isn’t sulking and pouting about his individual situation. He’s trying to find solutions, which means putting in extra work. He was the last player to leave the Mavericks’ locker room after the win over the Bucks because he got in a postgame workout, and he returned to the American Airlines Center on the team’s off day Sunday.

This isn’t a case of another demoted starter taking a passive-aggressive approach, as Chris Kaman did last season, only to later moan about coach Rick Carlisle’s “mind games.” The problem is the results look awfully familiar at this point.

“I think Sam’s the exact opposite,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Sam is trying to figure out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed with himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well and he wants to get better. Chris was completely different. ... Sam will get better.”

If Dalembert doesn’t get better, he won’t get many minutes. That’s clear after the high-impact return of Brandan Wright, who had 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting and six rebounds in 19 minutes during his season debut, coming off the bench behind DeJuan Blair.

The Mavs aren’t looking for big numbers from Dalembert, who they hoped would provide a solid defensive backbone for the starting lineup. They just won’t accept lackadaisical play. They’ve been disappointed in his lack of energy and intensity on defense and on the glass.

“That’s on him,” assistant coach Monte Mathis said. “I think he’s got to jump-start himself. I don’t think that’s on a coach or a player. Sam’s got to jump-start himself. He can do it. We know what he can do. He can be a great rim protector, he can be a good runner, he can be a threat on the offensive boards. He’s got to do it himself. He’s got to motivate himself and we think he can do it.”

Dalembert said he’s explosive and aggressive during practice, but that hasn’t translated to games for several weeks. Carlisle mentioned that he was trying to figure out why that was during a post-practice chat with Dalembert on Friday. Dalembert replied that he was trying to figure that out, too.

“The best way to approach that is to keep on playing, keep on practicing hard, keep going hard and when my opportunities show up, just shine,” said Dalembert, who mentioned that he had dealt with nagging injuries to his hamstring, lower back and ribs but didn’t want to use them as excuses. “I’ve been in worse situations before. I’ve been in situations where I’ve come back from all the way at the bottom.

“I’m not a guy who’s afraid to compete or anything like that.”