By Scott Spangler

While watching the Dallas Mavericks open against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals Monday night, it was easy to pick out the headliners. Even someone just crawling out of a time capsule, never having heard the name “Dirk,” could observe this gangly sharpshooter with the golden locks and quickly identify the talent as otherworldly.

As for the Lakers, after Kobe Bryant, we look down the LA front line and see Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. This would be an embarrassment of frontcourt riches for, oh, 25 other NBA clubs. But for this organization, it’s simply two more in a long line of outstanding big men.

Commentary: Tyson Chandler a rare difference-maker in paint for Mavericks

Dallas counters with an interior presence of its own - a presence this club hasn’t known since the late 1980s with James Donaldson and Roy Tarpley. In his first year with the Mavs, Tyson Chandler has restored that sort of stability inside.

The Lakers past history boasts the likes of Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and O’Neal… a basic who’s-who of franchise centers.

In contrast, Chandler might very well represent the best center Dallas has ever had.

I can barely recall Ralph Drollinger, an original Maverick who enjoyed a six-game NBA career. And in the mid-80s, there was Wallace Bryant; probably best remembered for blocking the shot of MVP Moses Malone late in a game to help secure Dallas’ first-ever win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Growing up as a Maverick fan, I always thought Pat Cummings was a fine NBA center. But I was a preteen who thought of girls as gross and bathing as unnecessary, so I recommend you consider the source. Cummings brought the lunch pail every night, but if I am being honest about it, he barely qualified as a journeyman forward.

Fast-forwarding to the Donaldson era, Maverick fans rejoiced because this was a brute that would toss bodies about and rebound the basketball. Until this past summer when Dallas traded for Tyson Chandler, James Donaldson was widely regarded as the best big man in franchise history.

So when Chandler placed third as the NBA’s Defensive Player of The Year a couple of weeks ago, I could not help but to crack a smile and think of the first playoff game in Maverick history. The Seattle SuperSonics came into Reunion Arena to kickoff a best-of-five series. My father and I made that one, sat nosebleed, and watched Jack Sikma run Kurt Nimphius through the torture chamber all night.

Silly me, I had this crazy notion Kurt could slow down a seven-time All-Star.

Twenty-five years later, the Mavericks have a legitimate middle man.  Not a power forward masquerading as one, but a real center. Tyson Chandler won’t ever be confused with Wilt Chamberlain, but he’s a far cry from Ralph Drollinger.

And he is something Dallas has lacked in the Dirk Nowitzki era. Shawn Bradley, Raef LaFrentz, Erick Dampier were all unable to deliver. Chandler gives this team real belief that it can unseat the two-time defending champs.

It is not just belief, confidence, or swag. Actually, it’s all of that AND the toughness to back it up.

Read fan reaction and discuss your own opinion in this forum topic.