Records: Lakers 31-12 (2nd in West), Mavericks 26-14 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.0 (1st in NBA), Mavericks 107.1 (15th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (9th in NBA), Mavericks 104.7 (10th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Deshawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (both out); Mavericks:Rodrique Beaubois& Caron Butler (both out), Tyson Chandler (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: Whether or not you consider the Lakers’ win vs. the Thunder their best of the season, it was definitely good to see a W against a very good opponent. The Lakers played a very good 1st half and a tremendous 2nd half to close out the type of young, talented, and athletic team that has given them fits all year. So, coming off a win like that the Lakers are now in a position to springboard into a very difficult part of their schedule. Tonight the Mavs await andwhile they’re not playing their best (more on that in a second) they surely represent another quality team that is expected to perform well come playoff time.
In order to rack up the wins against quality teams, though, the Lakers must start to improve in some of the areas that have been hampering them lately. First off all, that means getting more minutes out of Bynum. Big ‘Drew has been plagued with fouls in the past couple of games and it’s really killed his rhythm on offense while also removing the Lakers interior defensive anchor on defense. They also need more performances like the OKC game from their point guards. Fisher had a very good shooting game andBlake (though only making one shot) looked more aggressive by at least acting like he wanted to shoot more (but not being able to because defenders were in good position to contest his would be shots). With Kobe playing well of late, LO still locked in, Ron finding his stride, and Pau now seemingly playing better too the Lakers are poised to start to make a push but they’ll need the other key pieces to come along for the ride. Here’s hoping that starts now.
The Mavericks Coming in: Injuries have simply killed this team lately. Once the 2nd seed and one of the hotter teams in the league, the Mavs have lost 6 games in a row and9 of 11. After Caron Butler went down for the season with an injured knee and Dirk missed games due to the slight spain of his own, the Mavs simply couldn’t keep up offensively and started their tumble down the standings. They now sit in 5th place in the conference but are only 3 games ahead in the loss column over the 7th place team (Denver).
However, things may begin to fall back into place for the Mavs. First off all, Dirk is back from injury, and while he didn’t perform well in his first game back (7 points in only 14 minutes, plus he got ejected for arguing), in Monday’s game against the Pistons he put up 32 points on only 17 shots (though, in defeat). Now that their offensive anchor is back, the Mavs shouldn’t have the same issues scoring the ball andjust have to get back to playing quality defense. The return of Tyson Chandler (he missed the last couple games withthe flu, but is hopeful to play tonight) should help with that. In the end, I think everyone in Big D is hopeful that a loss to the lowly Pistons was rock bottom and they can get back to playing the type of ball that had them pegged as one of the best teams in the league through the first 30 games of the season. And they’ll look to get on track tonight vs. the visiting defending champs.
Mavericks Blogs: Rob Mahoney does an excellent job over at The Two Man Game (amongst other places). Go there and learn some things on the Mavs.
Keys to game:The Mavshave been trying for years to match up with the Lakers and Spurs and this year they’ve put together the roster that actually comes closest for them to do so. So, tonight will depend a lot on whether or not the Mavs actually have the ingredients to contend with the Lakers’ strengths or if they’re still a ways behind.
Defensively, the Lakers are going to have to deal with a team that plays at a slower pace but will selectively push the ball when it’s to their advantage. Jason Kidd, despite his age, is still one of the better floor generals in the league in that he’s excellent at recognizing the weakness of other team and then working to exploit it. Tonight he’ll be very aware that the Lakers struggle when the ball is pushed back at them and I’m sure he’ll try to run up the Lakers backs in order to get Shawn Marion shots going to the basket and his shooters (Dirk, Barrea, Terry) open shots at the three point line against a collapsing defense. So, the Lakers must run back hard and be aware of who is on the floor in order to match up in transition and not give up the looks that the Mavs want to get.
In the half court, the Mavsdo the same things they’ve been doing for a while – run P&R with Kidd probing the D and run isolations at the elbow for Dirk to go one on one against defenders that aren’t used to guarding 7’0” bigs that can create their own shots out to the 3 point line. Stopping Dirk will be the #1 priority, though, so that means plenty of extra attention directed towards him. Luckily in Gasol and Odom, the Lakers have good individual defenders to put on Dirk but I’d love to see LA mix up their coverages on him by doubling when he puts the ball on the ground or feinting the double and then recovering when he looks to pass. Dirk is not a turnover prone player, but if the Lakers can get him out of his rhythm and make him see things that aren’t really developing that way they may bait him into some bad possessions.
On the other side of the ball, the Mavs defense may present one of the biggest challenges the Lakers’ offense see all year. The reason is that the Mavs play one of the best zone defenses in the entire league and the Lakersdon’t really deal with the zone that well. In order to crack the Mavs’ zone D, the Lakers will need to use crisp ball andplayer movement while also acting decisively. I’d love to see quick ball reversals with Kobe at the top of the zone, Gasol or Odom flashing to the middle, and the other big sitting in the short corner ready to duck in for high-low actions. If the Lakers can get Kobe at the top of the key isolated against Kidd, Terry, or Barrea he can easily get to the elbow area to elevate and shoot his jumper. If Gasol and/or Odom can get into the creases of the D either at the FT line or along the baseline, they too should be able to get easy shots in the teeth of the defense. This will take discipline on offense, though, and that’s something that hasn’t always been there for the Lakers this season (despite their efficiency).
Lastly, the battle of the benches will be key tonight. In Barrea, Terry, Cardinal, and Haywood the Mavs have 4 rotation players that they inherently trust to play well. Terry is, again, one of the leading candidates for 6th man of the year while Cardinal stepped in admirably for Dirk when he was out injured. While the Mavs trust Barrea so much they’ll often go to three guard line ups where he’s flanked by Kidd and Terry to close out games. So, the Lakers bench of LO, Shannon, Blake, and Walton will need to have good games tonight in order to match the production of the Mavs’ reserves (while also holding them below their normal levels). If one bench drastically outplays the other, that team will probably win this game.
The Mavs face an uphill climb tonight. Per the Elias Sports Bureau this is the longest losing streak by the Mavs since the 2000 season andthey’re trying to snap it against the back to back champs. However, you know what they say about about a person with their back against the wall so the Lakers will need to be prepared for the Mavs’ best effort tonight. This win could catapult them back into their winning ways. Meanwhile, the Lakers need to win these games not so much as a confidence boost but because they’re finally starting to play well and beating another top team will only continue the momentum along that was slightly interrupted by the Clippers game. Here’s hoping that the road team is the one that uses this game as their springboard.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start out west on KCAL and nationally on ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.