There was a common theme to the two games I focused my viewing attention on Tuesday night. In Dallas’ triumph over Golden State and Portland’s victory against Phoenix, both winning teams relied heavily on an unexpected hero stepping into the lineup.
The Mavericks had to replace starting center Tyson Chandler–one of this season’s most pleasant surprises to date–when a stomach illness kept him out of the lineup. Dallas has a veteran backup in Brendan Haywood, no stranger to the starting lineup, but Haywood was on the bench down the stretch. Instead, Rick Carlisle went with Ian Mahinmi, the French curiosity the Mavericks signed away from San Antonio over the summer.
We raved about Mahinmi’s D-League performance in this year’s Pro Basketball Prospectus. That’s about all we’ve had to go on, since Mahinmi had played 226 minutes in his entire five-year NBA career entering Tuesday night. Given a chance to play, Mahinmi showed what the fuss was about, providing Dallas 21 strong minutes off the bench. Mahinmi posted a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. He showed some post skill, knocking down a hook and reaching the foul line 10 times (making eight). A legit 7-footer, Mahinmi is also a defensive presence.
Alas, with Chandler likely to return shortly, we might have seen the last of Mahinmi for a while. He’s buried behind two capable veteran centers, so it’s going to take an injury or a trade for Mahinmi to get his chance. That’s not the case for Patty Mills, who sparked the Blazers Tuesday off the bench.
Mills saw extended minutes because Andre Miller was suspended by the league for ramming the Clippers’ Blake Griffin on Sunday night, snapping a streak of 632 consecutive games played. Nate McMillan started Nicolas Batum in place of Miller, going without a true point guard, but Mills got the early call when Batum picked up two quick fouls. The Aussie ended up playing 29 points, including a chunk of crunch time. Mills scored nine points and handed out seven assists, giving the Portland offense some missing life. Mills showed especially good chemistry with Rudy Fernandez. The two have become close friends, and Mills looked for Fernandez, who scored 11 points–nine of them attributable to Mills passes.
It’s unlikely that Mills will play such a large role in the future, but the backup spot behind Miller is wide open. Mills made a strong case Tuesday that he deserves an extended trial in the position and might just fill it.