It was about a month ago when Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told Darren Collison he was going to bring him off the bench instead of keeping him as his starting point guard. The news was not what Collison wanted to hear. “I think everybody knows how I took it,” Collison said. “If anybody demoted you guys at your job I don’t think you guys will be too happy about it. “That’s just the competitor that I am. But at the same time I’ve always been a team player.” Collison tried to take the demotion in stride. “At the end of the day you’ve just got to try to handle it classy and don’t try to put yourself in front of the team,” Collison said. “This is about the team. “Whatever Coach says, that’s Coach’s decision. I’ve got to be professional about it and go out there on the court and try to play.” The Mavs have played their best basketball of the season since Collison went to the bench in favor of Mike James. In the 17 games since Collison became a reserve, the Mavs have gone 11-6. Collison has 11 double-digit scoring games during those 17 games, and he has at least five assists in 10 games. Collison hopes to add to that total at 8 p.m. Sunday when the Mavs (37-39) play Portland (33-43) at the Rose Garden. Meanwhile, Carlisle has always considered Collison as one of his starters, even if he doesn’t start. “He’s a virtual starter for us,” Carlisle said. “And we’ve got two or three of them off the bench with him and Vince [Carter], and Brandan Wright now is kind of in that category. “But right now, for point guards coming off the bench, he’s as good as anybody in this league. He’s taking pride in it, he’s working at it to help the team, so I’m really impressed with how his approach hasn’t changed this year.” Collison said it has been a learning experience. “I’m still young and I’m still trying to get better,” Collison said. “I’m excited just to be out there on the court and just to get an opportunity to play. “Like I said, regardless of how many minutes I’m playing, I’m just going to try to help the team win.” Told that the Mavs lead the NBA in bench scoring, Collison said: “That’s good. It’s some positive out of this. “But you’ve just got to keep plugging away. Sometimes things may not go your way, but you’ve got to use it as fuel to get ready as a player, and I’m trying to use all this to get better.”