Preview and Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

Darius Soriano —  February 22, 2012

Records: Lakers 19-13 (5th in West), Mavericks 21-12 (3rd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (15th in NBA), Mavericks 102.0 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (11th in NBA), Mavericks 97.9 (3rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood
Injuries: Lakers: none; Mavericks: Rodrigue Beaubois (out), Delonte West (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won 5 of 7 and are coming off a solid game against the Blazers that showed the full spectrum of what this team is capable of. When they were sharing the ball, hitting shots, and defending with energy they built up a huge lead. When they stopped doing those things, the game got closer than it should have been and the starters (namely Kobe and Pau) ended up playing heavy minutes to secure a game that could have been a laugher. The fact that the win came at home is the other key ingredient to it all but we’ll get to that a bit later.

The Portland win, though, isn’t necessarily the story of the day. Much like how Kobe’s comments about Pau’s future with the Lakers stole the headlines on Sunday night, the players-only meeting and subsequent rehashing of Kobe’s comments are still making more headlines than the results on the floor. Whether the Lakers can use the fallout from all this “drama” to their advantage remains to be seen, but as I wrote when previewing the Blazers game, the hope is that the guys in the locker room start to come together and produce a product that’s better than the sum of their parts. As we’ve all seen, this isn’t the most talented Lakers team of the last several years (even with their elite core) and they need that extra bit of chemistry now more than ever. If players-only meetings and comments to the media help produce that, I’m all for it.

The Mavericks Coming in: The Mavs have won 7 of 8, with their only loss coming against the New York Lins this past Sunday in a game they looked to be in control of until Jeremy Lin went all Jeremy Lin on them (note: it may or not have happened this way, I’m caught up in the madness with the rest of the world).

In any event, the Mavs are playing good basketball and have actually been able to keep their season on track depsite their identity changing from seasons past. Rather than explaining it myself, I’ll let the always fantastic Zach Lowe take it from here:

The Mavericks, an offensive powerhouse last season, rank only 20th in points per possession. But they’ve managed to go 21-12 behind a defense creeping up on Chicago and Philadelphia in points allowed per possession. Dallas is just a different animal. Shawn Marion defends point guards, and the team’s nominal point guard, Jason Kidd, defends whatever position is convenient that night. The Mavs use giant front lines, with three power forwards, and employ zone principles that confuse every opponent.

So, even without Tyson Chandler (who’s playing fantastic man and team defense in New York) the Mavs are playing elite level defense and winning games via the tried and true approach of stopping the other team and getting timely buckets from dependable crunch time scorers.

Mavericks Blogs: The Two Man Game is excellent. You should be reading their work.

Keys to game: The last time these two teams played we were treated to endured a defensive slugfest that saw a total of 143 points scored between the two teams on a combined 57 for 156 shooting. Yuck. Both sides missed a ton of open shots and neither found their rhythm, as physicality ruled.

Tonight, obviously, I think we’d all like a more aesthetically pleasing game but with the same result (a Lakers win) to discuss after the fact. A few things to watch for:

  • If you look at the boxscore to the last game, you’ll notice Dirk going for 21 points on 8-17 shooting. That’s a good, but not great night and one that I think most Mavs fans would be happy with based off the numbers. However, what that boxscore doesn’t describe is the defense that Pau played on Dirk down the stretch of the game and how he didn’t fall for any of the German’s pet moves, contesting shots expertly and doing it all on an island with no help. Tonight, if the Lakers are to win, Pau will need to bring that same defensive intensity to the floor in trying to achieve the same results.
  • More box score watching gives us insight into what the Lakers’ offensive attack should look like. A hint: it rhymes with Andrew Bynum. The Lakers’ big man was the most effective player in that game, using his big frame to get good post position to score inside. Tonight, the Lakers would be wise to do more of this as Bynum is the one Laker that has advantageous matchups on both sides of the floor (more on this in a second) that should allow him the energy to be a focal point on offense.
  • Kobe too should get his shots, but as mentioned above, he has some things going against him tonight. First is that the Mavs will throw multiple defenders at Kobe – Carter, Marion, Kidd – in an attempt to keep a fresh body on him all night. Second is that Kobe will either have to deal with Vince Carter (who’s having a good season as a 3rd option) or Jason Kidd (where Kobe will have to navigate screens and make key rotations on D) that will affect his legs throughout the game. Taking these factors into account, Kobe needs to be smarter on offense by getting into position to score before he has the ball (either by using screens, making smart cuts, or posting up) rather than isolating on the wing or at the top of the key 20 feet away from the rim. The more he’s able to get into the teeth of D to get his shots, the better.
  • Rebounding will also be key tonight. Despite the Lakers missing 37 shots last game, they only grabbed 6 offensive rebounds. The Lakers must do a better job of getting to the glass on the offensive end, especially when Marion is on Kobe and either Ron or Barnes are matched up against a smaller defender that they can take into the paint to battle for rebounds with.
  • Finally, the Laker bench must provide something of value tonight. As I’ve mentioned before, role players often perform worse on the road, but for this Laker team to start to win some road games, that has to change. Blake, Barnes, Murphy, and Goudelock must hit shots to take the offensive pressure off L.A.’s big three, and must defend well enough that big minutes aren’t needed from Kobe and Pau. This can’t be stressed enough. The Lakers are some legitimate road wins away from being, record wise, one of the better teams in the league and as much as we harp on the things that Pau, Bynum, and Kobe can be doing better, they’re really not the problem here. The bench (as well as Fisher and MWP) must do more and must do it in a place not called Staples Center.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on ESPN and KCAL.


Darius Soriano

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