Records: Lakers 43-14 (1st in the West), Mavericks 36-21 (4th in the West, 7.0 games behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.8 (9th in NBA), Mavericks 108.0 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (2nd in NBA), Mavericks 105.9 (12th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood
A note on game winners: Last night’s jumper was the fifth time that Kobe outright beat a team with the last made shot of a game. That glorious three point bomb joined his three pointer against the Kings, his running sideways three against the Heat, his turn around jumer against the Bucks, and his pull up jumper against the Celtics. Environment doesn’t matter to our guy as Kobe’s made two of these shots at home and three on the road. If you want to be less strict about game winners, you can add the jumper Kobe sank to untie the game against the Mavs back in January as another clutch shot that directly led to victory. As I mentioned last night, this is a special player that his having a special year. We should all enjoy this because players and performances like this don’t come around too often.
And for those debating clutchness, one measure of how a player performs in the clutch is what he does in the 4th quarter and overtime. So far this season, Kobe has hit 18 shots that have given the Lakers the lead in this situation – tops in the league. So when the game is close and the Lakers are within a basket to take the lead, Kobe is hitting more shots than any other player. Pretty impressive. Second on that list? He plays for the team that we face tonight. Dirk has hit 14 such shots this season. He’s pretty good too. (*Stats from ESPN Stats and the Elias Sports Bureau)
The Mavericks Coming in: As we’ve covered a lot around here, the Mavericks have added some new faces. The Butler and Haywood upgrade has been discussed and dissected everywhere so I won’t get into that now. Not because it’s not important, but because in recent days the Mavs have made a couple of other really important moves. That’s right – Von Wafer and Dwayne Jones are now Mavericks! All joking aside, Von and Dwayne are recent signees of the Mavs and look to get limited minutes as insurance to some other injuries and depth issues the Mavs are dealing with. One under reported consequence of the trade with the Wiz (and an earlier trade that the Mavs made with the Nets to reacquire Eddie Najera) is that the Mavs are really lacking in big man depth. In losing both Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden in trades and with Eric Dampier in street clothes with a busted hand, the Mavs need some bodies to play behind their improved core. Wafer and Jones are getting their shots with 10 day contracts to see if they can be those players to help out. If not, the Mavs will look for some other player to step in.
Looking at the Mavs since their acquisition of Butler/Haywood, you see that the Mavs are back to their winning ways. They’ve won four in a row by an average of almost nine points per game. I say back to their winning ways because one of the reasons that Mark Cuban was even willing to make this trade (and take on the additional salary and coressponding luxury tax hit) was because the Mavs were in a real funk. Over the 15 games before the trade, the Mavs had lost 8 games and a .500 hundred team is not going to inspire any confidence for a deep post season run, which is what the Mavs (and their owner) want and expect. So, at this point the Mavs are back on track and are hoping to make a push into one of the top 3 seeds in the west and an avoidance of the Lakers in the 2nd round. Can they pull it off? A win tonight would certainly help with the confidence they’ll need to move in that direction.
Mavericks Blogs: Rob Mahoney at the Two Man Game is one of the best bloggers around and deserves our attention. He’s always getting fans meaninful information about the Mavs. (He’s also one of the main contributors at ProBasketballTalk). Go read his stuff.
Keys to game: Tonight’s game will be a bit of a feeling out process for both teams while also serving as a measuring stick for both sqauds. While all the pieces are familiar, this is a new Mavs team and one that the Lakers are going to need to take stock of. And from the Mavs persepective, the Lakers are the team that they need to measure themselves against and with their new players, they need to see if the moves made have helped them match up better.
On offense, the Lakers need to attack the Mavs in the same way that they started to attack the Grizzlies in the first quarter last night. That means early post touches for Pau against Dirk and for Drew against Haywood. The Lakers advantage inside may not be what it typically is against a team with good big men like the Mavs, that does not mean you go away from your strength. Enter the ball into the post and then run the offense. Last night against the Grizz, the Lakers got away from running their offense and the game turned sloppy as they turned the ball over repeatedly. Tonight, the Lakers need to stick to the plan and execute the Triangle. I know I say this every game, but the Lakers offesne – when run correctly – allows for a variety of options that almost always lead to an advantage when strung out. Pass the ball, move, and then pass the ball more. It will lead to open shots.
One aspect I’d like to see the Lakers offense improve on tonight is being aware of the Mav’s guards digging down to help on the post. Recently, both with and without Kobe, the Lakers bigs have been going into their moves to score the ball and have not been aware of late help coming to swipe at the ball for steals and contest shots to get blocks. Last night Rudy Gay was very effective at helping late to contest shots and Conley/Mayo were also effective in digging down to disrupt the post moves of our bigs. Tonight, the Lakers face Jason Kidd who is one of the best guards in the league at this technique and they’ll need to be ready. Our bigs need to be patient, but when they do decide to make their move it must be agressive while still done with awareness because the Mavs guards (and Kidd specifically) will be helping off our guards (who have struggled to make jumpers) to bother our bigs and are betting that our shooters not named Kobe will not make them pay.
On defense, it all starts with slowing down Dirk. I could go on and on about a player that I think is one of the (still) underrated players in the game, but I won’t. Just understand that the guy has 20,000+ career points for a reason. He can hurt you in a variety of ways and marking him in both the half court and on the secondary break is key to slowing the Mavs attack. Luckily, I think the Lakers happen to have two of the best defenders to throw at Nowitzki in Pau and Lamar. Both of our guys must find him early in the clock and push him out of his comfort zone. Make him drive right to shoot his jumper and always be aware that when the ball goes on the ground he loves to spin back over his right shoulder to shoot his pretty fade-away jumper.
The other key players on offense to watch are Kidd and Terry. Despite his age, Kidd is still playing high level offensive basketball. Watching him operate with the ball in his hands never gets old as he consistently makes the right decision and rarely forces the action. The key to slowing Kidd down, I think, is to pressure the ball and make him work to get to the spots on the floor that he likes. When left to move unimpeded, Kidd can execute you to death by picking out players with pin point passes that set them up for easy shots. He’s truly like the quarterback that leads his WR’s perfectly so they can run after the catch. So, in keeping the football analogy alive, I think you need to pressure the passer and make him beat you when feeling the heat. As for Terry, he is a notorious Laker killer and he needs to be marked from the moment he’s sitting at the scorers table to come into the game. He can light it up from anywhere and relishes his chances to stick it to the Lakers. I think we’ll see a lot of Shannon on JET tonight and that means we need the disciplined defense that WOW showed against Portland and San Antonio to make sure that Terry doesn’t get that good feeling going. One other player that needs to be mentioned is rookie speedster Roddy Beaubois. The Mavs are high on him and for good reason. He’s a blur in the open court and can create shots with the best of them. Almost half of his shots come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, so you know he’s looking to push pace and get easy buckets. Talent evaluators have compared him to Tony Parker and Leandro Barbosa which is high praise and means that we better be paying attention to him – especially since he is the type of guard that traditionally gives the Lakers problems.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start here in the West, Nationally on ESPN and Locally on KCAL 9, also on ESPN Radio 710am.