On Tap: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  December 12, 2005

Is it the chicken or the egg with the Laker offense?

Read the local papers after the loss to Minnesota and the comments follow these lines: The Lakers stopped getting assists, stopped passing the ball, and so the offense struggled. The subtext: Kobe is too selfish.

But here’s the thing — watch the game and you’ll see the role players who have been hot got good looks but missed their chances. As a team the Lakers shot 47.1% (eFG%) for the game, right at their season average. However, take out Kobe and Lamar and the rest of the Lakers shot 36.5%. To put not to fine a point on it, when the rest of the Lakers hit their shots, Kobe passes more and the offense flows (as it did during the win streak), but if they go cold Kobe (and, to a lesser degree, Lamar) take the game on themselves because even in coverage they can hit more shots than whoever they pass to.

The rest of the Lakers are going to need to be hot tonight.

Count me in the group that is high on Dallas — I was saying they were the second best team in the West from the start of the season.

I was saying that because while many in the media cling to the “Dallas doesn’t play defense” theory from their run-and-gun era, the fact is they finished ninth in the league last season in defensive rating. This season they are ranked 12th at 104.5 (points per 100 opponent possessions). That is basically tied with the Lakers (104.6), and while they are not defensive stoppers just an average defense paired with the Mavericks’ great offense is going to win a lot of games.

As a team the Mavericks are shooting 49.4% for the season and have an offensive rating of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions), the third best offense in the league. And don’t confuse these Mavericks with the run-and-gun era in another way — Dallas is one of the slowest playing teams in the league, averaging just 87.4 possessions per game (25th in the league).

The one thing the Lakers need to do is keep Dallas off the offensive glass, the Mavericks grab 31.8% of their missed shots, the second highest percentage in the league.

Obviously, the Lakers need to find a way to slow Dirk Nowitzki (although who is going to do it, Kwame? Odom? Some combination?). He is averaging 27.4 points per 40 minutes played (fifth best in the league) and adding 9.4 rebounds (grabbing 14% of available boards when he is on the floor). He is also a +16.8 (meaning Dallas is 16,8 points better per 48 minutes when he is on the floor), also in the top 10 in the league. Nowitzki needs to be in the MVP discussions this season.

But what has made Dallas a contender is that others have stepped up around Dirk. Jason Terry at the point is shooting 55.4% (eFG%) and running the offense smoothly. Josh Howard has a PER of 19.8 and Devin Harris 18.3, both well above the league averages. Erick Dampier takes a lot of flak for his play inside (and deserves to on the defensive end, the Mavs are much better defensively when he sits), but he does grab a lot of rebounds (17.9% of the available boards when he is on the floor). And watch out for DeSagana Diop (+11.3) and Marquis Daniels (+7.8), good things seem to happen when they are on the floor.

If the Lakers are going to win, it may depend on Smush and Lamar to play at their best. The best places to attack Dallas are at the point (an opponent PER of 18.2) and at the four (16.1) because while Dirk’s defense has improved he can’t hang with Odom on the perimeter.

The Lakers need the supporting cast tonight to get back to playing like they did during the four-game win streak, and Kobe is going to have to be very efficient. More importantly, the Lakers are going to have to have one of their best defensive showings of the season. And on the road in Dallas, all that will probably mean the Lakers will have a shot at the end in a close game. Which is about all you can ask.