DALLAS - Dwight Powell is a security blanket.
He knows exactly what to do. He knows exactly when to do it. He knows exactly how to do it. He is a coach's dream due to his reliability and conscientiousness.
But Willie Cauley-Stein is something more than a security blanket - he's a starter.
It finally happened on Monday in Houston, Cauley-Stein being elevated by coach Rick Carlisle onto the first team and - not surprisingly to anyone who has watched the Dallas Mavericks in the last two weeks - contributing to a 113-110 win over James Harden's Rockets.
“We’ve been at our best defensively this year when he’s been on the floor,” Carlisle said.
We know, Rick. We know.
We've been suggesting for a while that Powell, maybe in part because he's coming off the Achilles rehab, is best-suited as a spot player - that it's Powell, not Cauley-Stein, who should be used as a "specialist.''
The Monday switch freed Cauley-Stein to contribute not only on defense, but all-around, as he produced season-highs of 15 points and seven rebounds along with two assists, a steal and a blocked shot, while also stifling Harden.
“I approach the game the same way whether I’m playing three minutes, coming off the bench, starting,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m going to come in and play hard and try to finish hard and finish plays, and just kind of fly all over with that energy.''
That energy was part of a swarming defense that collapsed on Harden, forcing him into a 5-17 shooting night to get his 21 points. Meanwhile, John Wall was even worse, going for just 14 points on 4-10 shooting.
The Dallas switch reduced Powell to 15 minutes (two rebounds and two points) and also included Maxi Kleber as a starter, which pushed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a backup role - and that worked, too, as Hardaway scored 30.
“It was great that his number was called and he was out there producing,” Hardaway said of Cauley-Stein. “We’re all happy for him and hope he can continue to keep that pace because we’re going to need him.”
While Luka Doncic said, “I don’t think it’s just today; He just got keep going like this, and we’re really happy to have him'' ... Hardaway's remarks suggest that the change is something short of permanent for 3-4 Dallas. But there is no question that the new 7-0 center contributed on the stat sheet, or that WCS' feistiness contributed to the frustration felt by the Rockets, highlighted by Boogie Cousins' ejection.
Said Cauley-Stein: "That’s the hard-nosed swagger I was talking about ...''
And Willie Cauley-Stein as a starter did exactly what we've been talking about.