Records: Lakers 28-18 (3rd in West), Mavericks 27-20 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.1 (16th in NBA), Mavericks 102.8 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.7 (10th in NBA), Mavericks 100.1 (4th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Ian Mahinmi
Injuries: Lakers: none; Mavericks: Brendan Haywood (out), Shawn Marion (doubtful), Delonte West (out)
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have found ways to lose their last two games, be it through sloppy play or late game dysfunction. Many deserve blame for the losses, so pinning any of these defeats on one person may be easy, but it’s not the most nuanced approach. Too many things went wrong in those games.
Take last night for example. Below are the plays the Lakers ran, with the results, after Kobe entered the game late into the 4th quarter:
- Post up for Pau where he went baseline for an up and under move that he missed.
- A “horns” set (where the ball is entered into the hight post and the weak side big and strong side guard set down screens for the wings) to get Kobe the ball. After Kobe came off the screen he wasn’t open, but received a hand off from Pau that led to him missing a three point shot.
- Another “horns” set to get Kobe the ball. When he curled into the paint a pass was attempted, but he did not catch it cleanly and a turnover resulted.
- Another “horns” set to get Kobe the ball. After he makes the catch drifting to the top of the key, he runs a P&R with Gasol, splits the screen and shoots a fading jumper going left that misses.
- The Lakers run “two down” which is a down screen action to free Kobe up to get the ball. He has the option of coming up to the FT line or can break off his cut to go to the strong side post. Kobe gets the ball, on the left side of the floor and shoots a fadeaway jumper that misses.
- The Lakers run a 1/2 P&R with Sessions and Kobe. Sessions comes off the pick but with nothing there swings the ball to the opposite wing. The ball is then entered into Pau in the mid-post, but with the shot clock winding down he takes a contested jumper that misses.
- The Lakers run an isolation for Kobe after a screen action and he hits a jumper.
- The Lakers run a variation of the same play to get Kobe the ball and he again hits a jumper in isolation.
- The Lakers run a post-up play for Gasol, but he’s fouled and the Lakers must inbound. After the inbound the Lakers run a hand-off for Kobe and he takes a three pointer that misses.
- The Lakers run another hand-off play for Kobe at the top of the key and he makes a three pointer.
- After a Laker foul, the Rockets make one of two FTs, but because the Lakers don’t have a timeout, they can’t advance the ball and Barnes can’t get a full court heave up after fumbling the rebound. Game over.
In the entirety of the last 4 minutes and 45 seconds, not counting the last second heave that wasn’t, the Lakers had 10 trips on offense. Of those 10 plays they ran 2 post ups for Gasol and one Sessions/Kobe P&R that led to another Pau post up. Gasol took 2 shots and was fouled once. Every other time, the play was ran for Kobe and Kobe shot the ball.
Now, maybe this is Kobe’s fault for shooting every time. Maybe it’s Brown’s fault for calling these plays (from the angles I saw on TV, Brown looked to call several plays in this stretch, whether he called all of them I do not know). But what I can say is that the Lakers must find a way to diversify their late game offense if they’re going to be successful scoring the ball. Running simple down screen actions for Kobe and/or asking him to create off the dribble isn’t a strategy that will work often enough for it to be the only plan of attack. It puts the Lakers in a position where they’re too dependent on one person to score for their offense to be successful, and beyond that it’s asking him to do so mostly on his own. And while Kobe’s always seemed willing to operate within this type of structure, it’s not the most prudent way of attacking a geared up defense.
Of course, missing Bynum surely hurt them as he’s become a very good late game option in the low post. And with his full compliment of players, who knows what Brown calls or what the players decide to run if given the chance. But last night was an example of the Lakers being too predictable. And in the end, that must change or they’ll be too easy to defend on these critical possessions.
The Mavericks Coming in: Dallas has won 4 in a row with their last two being impressive victories over the Spurs and Nuggets. In those two games the Mavs flashed a balanced and efficient offensive attack with Dirk leading the way, but with his teammates also playing very well. They’ve been missing Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion on defense, but their offense has more than made up for any deficiencies (though, to be clear, their defense has still performed well) as teamwork and ball movement have ruled. Recently the Mavs have looked more like the buzzsaw that shredded opponents in the playoffs than the middling offensive team they’ve been for most of this campaign. And that should worry opponents – especially the Lakers – a great deal. Because when this team shares the ball and makes quick and sound decisions, the shots come easy and are usually open. And with the quality of players they have taking those shots, they become very dangerous (as we saw last season).
Keys to game: With Haywood out and Marion listed as doubtful and unlikely to suit up, the Mavs are suddenly weaker at the defensive spots that would be allocated to Bynum and Kobe. This should put an emphasis on the Lakers working the ball through those two players as often as possible – especially Bynum.
Big Drew will be matched up against Mahinmi and Brandan Wright, both good athletes but both giving up a lot of weight and strength to Bynum. A post-centric attack that features Drew should be the point of emphasis tonight to make the Mavs either double team or watch as he powers to the rim with his low block arsenal. With this sort of attack, though, Bynum will need to be decisive with the ball and make the easy pass to try and set up his mates rather than looking for the homerun pass that sets up the basket. In recent games, Bynum has fallen in love with the skip pass to the opposite corner when the angled, same side pass is the easiest or the teammate rotating to the top of the key is most open. He must show patience and rather than hunt the actual assist, he must live with the hockey one.
As for Kobe, he’ll see plenty of Vince Carter and Jason Kidd tonight and while he has the advantage over both players, both will get into him and make him earn his baskets. Against both guys I’d like to see Kobe work in the P&R more to spread the Dallas defense out and rely less on him creating his own shot in isolation or coming off curls where the timing and accuracy of passes must be nearly perfect to run the action correctly. If Kobe can catch the ball in space and free of defenders, I’m more than happy to let him attack in whatever way he sees fit, but the Mavs often hound him with defenders right in his hip pocket. Working with more ball screens should serve him well to escape those defenders.
Defensively, the Laker rotations must be sharp, as the ball will be moving all over the court. Kidd will run the P&R and he’ll not only seek out Dirk, but he’ll use the big German’s presence on the court to shift the defense and then hit an open man elsewhere. Once the ball is passed, it will move on to the next man, and then again to the next man until the guy with the ball is open enough to take an uncontested shot. With this type of discipline on offense, the Lakers must show the same amount on defense lest they want to give up open shots to players more than capable of knocking them down.
On an individual level, the Mavs are obviously quite talented too and must be respected when in isolation. Dirk, of course, is one of the best scorers in the league and he’ll try to work over Gasol with his deep jumper and then his show and go moves to get to his preferred spots on the floor. Pau must be quick in guarding Dirk’s J, but also not fall for the fakes that will get him out of position. With Marion likely out, the Mavs also have dual threats on the wing that want to attack off the dribble. The last time these teams met Vince Carter was a key, attacking off the dribble and breaking down the Lakers’ defense. His first step must be respected and I’d much rather him have to take pull up jumpers than for him to shoot in rhythm coming off picks or be able to get all the way to the rim off the dribble. The same applies to Beaubois, who loves to use his quickness to get into the lane. He must be cut off and forced to take contested jumpers.
I haven’t even mentioned Jason Terry or Lamar Odom yet, but you get the picture by now. The Mavs are a dangerous team and if the Lakers are going to stop this slide they’ll need their best execution on both sides of the ball. If they bring it, this is a totally winnable game that can get them back on track. The question of course, is will they?
Where you can watch: 6:30PM start time on ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.