With the Lakers starting their second round series against the Mavericks on Monday, we start our series preview today. In our first installment, we look at the Lakers’ offense versus the Mavericks’ defense.
The Mavericks may not be known as a defensive team, but for the season they boasted a top 10 defense measured by points per 100 possessions. They feature good length up front, solid wing defenders, and are more than willing to mix up their defensive scheme by playing zone. Two areas in which they excelled in the regular season were opponent’s FG% where they were 8th in the league allowing 45% and in their defensive rebound rate where they ranked 7th in the league. Because they weren’t a great team at forcing turnovers, they’re very reliant on getting initial stops and then securing the rebound to go the other way.
In order for the Lakers’ offense to be effective against this Mavericks’ team, they’ll need to be disciplined and play to the strengths of their individual match ups. As it is against most teams, that means attacking the Mavs inside first in order to open up other areas of the floor. If the Lakers can successfully establish the post, the Mavs will be forced to help on the block, which should then allow the perimeter players more time to shoot their jumpers while also opening up slashing lanes and angles for offensive rebounds.
And as it is against most teams, this offensive approach needs to begin with Pau Gasol. During the regular season, Pau had good success against the Mavs averaging 20 points a game on 54.5% shooting. If he’s to be as successful in the playoffs, the Lakers will need to look for him early and often and get him the ball in positions where he’s comfortable attacking. Against the Mavs, that should be easier than it was against the Hornets. Gasol will mostly be guarded by Dirk and while the big German offers good size, he’s not especially quick and isn’t a player that’s overly physical. When reviewing all of Gasol’s possessions vs. the Mavs from the regular season via Synergy Sports, a few trends immediately became clear. First is that Pau easily established position on his own, without the aid of a screen, in standard post ups just by running to his spot and calling for the ball. Pau did this in the hub of the Triangle on the strong side as well as on the weak side at both the low block and at the elbow. After establishing the post, Pau easily got off his jumper against Dirk and did so frequently against a sagging D. However, Pau was also able to both back Dirk down with good consistency and also did a very good job of turning and facing to attack off the dribble. In this series, I’d much rather Pau do the latter to make Dirk work on the defensive side of the ball. Again, Dirk will rarely body Gasol to keep him off his spots and that should allow him to get the type of position that is needed to attack with his jump hook off back downs and with his rolling hook off the bounce. If Pau is in attack mode this series, Dallas will have their hands full as they really don’t have a big man defender to bother Pau unless they shift Chandler onto him for extended possessions.
Speaking of Chandler, he’ll be the defensive key for the Mavs in this series. He is their best defensive big and is the type of long, rangy, and tenacious rim protector that makes a difference when he’s on the court. During the regular season, the Mavs saw this first hand as the Lakers scored nearly 5 points more per 100 possessions when Chandler was on the bench versus when he was on the bench according to NBA.com’s Stats Cube. Chandler’s ability to not only defend the post against his primary man, but protect the rim when other Lakers went to the block or attacked the paint off the dribble was huge for them. That said, in this series, he’ll find it more difficult than ever to both those things as Andrew Bynum has taken a bigger role in the Lakers offensive sets. Plus, as Phillip details, Chandler didn’t do that great a job defending Bynum in the first place:
One thing that really stood out to me is how poorly Tyson Chandler defended Andrew Bynum. He played a lot less physical than what I remembered when I originally watched the games, as if he were playing not to foul. Bynum was able to use his big frame to get great position for his baby hook shot or drop step toward the basket for an easy layup. In the final Lakers/Mavs regular season game in particular, Bynum wasn’t just effective in scoring against Chandler/Haywood/Dirk, but his ability to score one-on-one against those guys drew a lot of defenders, so Pau ended up getting freed on the offensive glass. On two or three of Bynum’s misses, Pau was able to score off the offensive rebound. On his other miss, Pau was all alone on the back side glass, and probably would have ended up with the rebound if ‘Drew’s shot wasn’t short.
This last point of offensive rebounding is a key one due to the aforementioned fact that the Mavs are typically a good defensive rebounding team. If both Bynum and Gasol can establish the post or put pressure on the defense by attacking the paint on aggressive drives and back downs, the help will come and the back side rebounding lanes will burst open. On countless possessions that I observed during the regular season, Gasol was especially adept at just walking his man underneath the hoop or slashing to rim on the angle whenever his man gave ground to help at the rim. Direct tip ins and loose balls out of scrums under the hoop often found Gasol’s sticky mits and in this series the Lakers will look to continue to capitalize on those chances whenever they attack they attack the paint. Remember, there’s more than high-low passing and cross screen actions to big man teamwork. These guys can help each other out a lot just by being aggressive going to the rim when they have the ball.
Speaking of big men, this is also a series where Odom can play a major role. Besides Shawn Marion, the Mavs don’t really have a good option to put on Odom. And considering Marion will have a lot of defensive responsibility in this series (likely splitting his time between Artest, Kobe, and Odom) LO can have a field day working in the gaps of Dallas’ scheme in the half court by taking advantage of the attention that Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum receive. But where Odom can have his biggest impact is by grabbing defensive rebounds and pushing the ball against the retreating Dallas big men. Besides Marion, none have the foot speed to counter Odom in the open court. And with Pau/Bynum such threats on the low block, Odom will often find himself working in space as the Mavs’ big men turn and run to the paint in order to set up and protect the paint. LO should be able to run up these big men’s backs and get to his left hand to finish over the top when they’re on the retreat. Odom can also be especially dangerous anytime the Mavs go zone as his ability to find creases both at the FT line and in the shallow corner will allow him to be a playmaker in space whenever he makes the catch. After having an up and down first round, this may be the series that LO makes his imprint.
Looking beyond the big men though, the player that may have the biggest match up advantage is Kobe. As Phillip explains, the Mavs will have trouble matching up with #24 while effective dealing with his full skill set:
During the course of this series, we can end up seeing the breadth of Kobe’s offensive repertoire. During the regular season series, the Mavericks threw myriad defenders at Kobe in hopes of slowing him down. We saw DeShawn Stevenson, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and Rodrique Beaubois all spending some time guarding Kobe, and Kobe has had some success against all of them. When he’s had smaller defenders on him (Terry, Beaubois), he’s taken them down in the post, or simply shot over the top of them off of spot up jumpers or off of screens. With bigger defenders (Marion, Stevenson, Kidd), he was more prone to start on the perimeter and attempt to beat them off the dribble in isolation situations. Stevenson might be the best individual defender on Kobe, but even he lacks the size that guys like a Shane Battier or a Nicolas Batum have, guys who have done some of the better jobs on him in recent years.
However, one of the bigger issues that the Mavericks are going to face with Kobe is the fact that, since none of those guys are really able to guard him in one-on-one situations, he has the ability to make all of the other advantages Darius mentioned about the Lakers size more glaring. If you send double teams at Kobe, that means you could end up leaving Bynum, Gasol, Odom or even Artest alone on an island. If Kobe does shoot over the double teams (which he will from time to time), it just gives the Lakers more opportunities for backside rebounds (assuming the shot misses). Maybe most troubling for the Mavs, Kobe has shown during the season series that he will take exactly what the Dallas defense is giving him – scoring well on one night (28 points in the 3rd match up) and being the facilitator in another (totaling 10 assists in the 1st match up). This diversity that Kobe offers could end up giving the Mavericks fits for however long this series lasts.
The Lakers certainly have the tools to attack an underrated Mavs defense. However, a lot of the Lakers success will depend on their ability to play smart basketball and not get caught up settling for the easy jumper but rather working the ball inside to pressure the interior of Dallas’ D. Whether it’s Gasol, Bynum, Kobe, or Ron acting on direct post ups or Odom and Kobe attacking off the dribble, the Lakers must look to play this series 15 feet and down to not only get easier looks at the basket but also force the Mavs to either foul or concede early baskets. Considering the importance of Chandler in this series, the Mavs will have difficult choices to make should both Pau and Bynum have good games in tandem as he can only guard one of them at a time. This may force the Mavs to go zone more often, but that tactic also opens them up to easier offensive rebounding chances and more slashing from Kobe and Odom working in the gaps. There are no easy answers here for the Mavs but the Lakers must make them work to not let them off the hook. If they do that, I expect the Lakers to have success and therefor force the Mavs’ offense to keep pace. As stated at the top, discipline will be the key but as the Lakers get deeper into the post-season I expect this to be less of an issue as it was early in the Hornets series.