Preview & Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

Darius Soriano —  November 24, 2012

Records: Lakers 6-7 (10th in the West), Mavericks 7-6 (5th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (4th in the NBA), Mavericks 103.8 (10th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.9 (14th in the NBA), Mavericks 103.6 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Mavericks: Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Shawn Marion, Troy Murphy, Chris Kaman
Injuries: Lakers: The Steves (out); Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have a myriad of issues on both sides the ball right now. They have, essentially, traded one work in progress under Mike Brown for another work in progress under Mike D’Antoni.

Offensively, the Lakers have shown an inability to get their bigs involved close enough to the paint where they can be the difference makers they’re supposed to be. The Lakers have become a P&R heavy team and while that’s opened up opportunities on the perimeter for their wing players (Ron is thriving right now), that action has not opened up the floor for the types of deep post touches that Howard needs very often. Running the P&R has also relegated Pau to a spot up shooter/playmaker from the high post on nearly every possession he’s on the floor with Howard. When Pau is making his jumper the offense looks very good as it opens up passing angles that he’s more than able to to take advantage of. But when he’s not, Pau looks very ineffective and out of sorts.

Also, putting the ball in Kobe’s hands to be the primary facilitator on every play has put a burden on him to mix his scoring with this playmaking. Some games he balances those responsibilities very well but on other nights — especially ones where the team falls behind — his scoring instincts kick in and the offense becomes stagnant. At this point the Lakers’ P&R heavy attack has exacerbated the fact that Nash is out as they simply don’t have the playmakers besides Kobe to really execute their offense at a peak level.

Defensively, the Lakers just aren’t doing many things well right now. On the wing, players are getting beat off the dribble much too easily. Kobe seems to be conserving energy for offense by not clamping down on defense and it’s hurting the integrity of the defense. Furthermore, dribble penetration is forcing the defense to collapse and when the ball is kicked out, closeouts by all players have been slow and/or rushed. This fact has led to either open jumpers or ball handlers racing by an out-of-control Laker rushing to try and contest the shot.

The Lakers’ bigs are also not defending at the level they need to be — especially Gasol. Pau is sitting too high in his defensive stance and is getting beat off the dribble too easily. Standing too tall has also made him susceptible to shot fakes which has only made beating him off the dribble easier. Howard has been better in straight man to man situations but is still not fully himself in patrolling the back line. He’s very good, but it seems there’s still confusion between him and his front court partner on who should be helping and who should be covering the secondary rotation. This confusion has led to easy baskets and too many offensive rebounding chances for the opposition.

All in all, the Lakers simply don’t look like a cohesive unit right now. Missing Nash hurts on offense and continuity with rotations and player combinations looks to be playing a part defensively. That said, this team simply needs to play harder and smarter for longer stretches. In the past two losses they’ve been terribly out of sorts and that needs to be remedied. And soon.

The Mavericks Coming in: For perspective in the Mavs, I had the chance to talk with Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation Dallas. He offered good insight on the Mavs without Dirk, the Collison/Mayo back court, their ailing defense, and more. Thanks to Jonathan for taking the time during the holiday. You can follow Jonathan on twitter @JonathanTjarks and be sure to check out his work at SB Nation. Here’s the Q&A:

Dirk remains sidelined with his knee injury. How much longer is supposed to be out and how has the team compensated for his absence?

Dirk had a press conference earlier in the week where he said that he was targeting a return date of mid-December. At this point, I’ll believe he’ll be back on the court when I see him, but for now, all Mavs fans can do is be optimistic. Seeing your 34-year old franchise player struggling with a knee injury is hardly an encouraging sign though.

I wouldn’t say that the team has compensated for his absence, because Marion is the only rotation player left from 2011. This current incarnation of the Mavs is really their own team, and when Dirk comes back, they’ll have to figure out their identity all over again.

The most consistent offensive player has been OJ Mayo, but he’s most effective running off screens and hunting for his own shot, so the key to the Dallas offense has been the play of Darren Collison. When he’s running the team, getting into the lane and creating open shots for others, the Mavs are very dangerous. When he’s struggling, this is a team that can lose to the Bobcats. When he’s on, they can beat the Knicks.

Currently, the Mavs are 19th in defensive efficiency (per Basketball Reference). Is that mostly related to Marion being out for those games or is there a bigger issue on D for them?

A combination of both. Marion, even at the age of 34, is still an very effective defensive player. Dahntay Jones is the only other perimeter stopper and it’s hard to give him too many minutes because of his offensive limitations. Marion still gives guys like Carmelo a lot of trouble, and he’s still versatile enough that Dallas can slide him over to play power forward against most teams.

However, the root of the Mavs defensive problems is the lack of an athletic big man to protect the rim. Rick Carlisle has gone with the trio of Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Troy Murphy upfront, and those guys can’t move their feet or play above the rim. What makes it even more frustrating is Dallas has two long and athletic big men — Brandan Wright and Bernard James — rotting away on the bench. If Lakers fans want a good laugh, check out the stats of Wright and Murphy this season. Carlisle has a lot of strengths as a coach, but he’s also a guy who will go out of his way to play a veteran over a younger player. It’s maddening.

The Collison/Mayo backcourt has been a pleasant surprise for how well they’ve played so far this year. Have they exceeded your expectations? And what are they doing that’s made them successful?

Mayo and Collison work very well in tandem. When they’re rolling, Mayo is a shooter who spreads the floor for Collison to drive into the paint while Collison is the creator who gets Mayo open shots from deep.

Mayo has been unbelievably efficient this season: he’s scoring 22 points a game on 50% shooting from the floor and 57% from three. However, he’s better as a pure scorer rather than creating for his teammates, which is why teams have been keying their defenses on stopping Collison.

That’s where Dirk’s absence really comes into play: Collison just hasn’t been able to handle being the brunt of defensive attention. He’s had good games, but he’s had some real stinkers: his low point probably came against Golden State last week, when Steph Curry absolutely undressed him on both sides of the ball. Curry had 31/6/9 while Collison had 7 points on 2-11 shooting and 5 assists on 5 turnovers.

Jae Crowder has really impressed me in the games I’ve seen. Do you think he’ll earn an even bigger role as the season progresses?

Crowder is an interesting player. He’s the definition of a defensive tweener at 6’6 235 — too small to defend bigs, not fast enough to defend on the perimeter — he can’t create his own shot against longer defenders and he really hasn’t been able to make a difference on the boards. However, even though he didn’t come out of college with a reputation as a shooter, that’s exactly what he’s been in his first few weeks in the NBA.

He’s shooting 40% from the 3, and as long as he can maintain those percentages, he can be a very effective weapon off the bench. If he can keep shooting like a young Steve Novak, he’ll have a nice rookie season, but if his shooting slips, he doesn’t really provide much else on the court, which is why he only has a PER of 13 and has picked up a few DNP-CD’s in recent weeks.

What do the Mavs need to do to beat the Lakers tonight?

As I’ve mentioned several times already, the main thing will be getting Collison going. I’d like to see the Mavs running a lot of pick-and-rolls with OJ Mayo spotting up on the opposite side of the floor. That means that if Carlisle is going to insist on playing Murphy, he has to knock down some 3’s on pick-and-pops. Otherwise, this is a game where Wright could be very effective, as Lakers fans saw on Opening Night.

With Marion and Jones to at least bother Kobe, Dallas actually matches up with LA fairly well, especially since their biggest struggles have come against teams with slashers who can attack their big men at the rim. But without Dirk, they’ll still need a lot of things to bounce in their favor: Chris Kaman needs to be able to hold his own against Dwight Howard and they’ll need Mayo, Crowder and Carter to connect from 3.

Mavericks Blogs: The Two Man Game and Mavs Moneyball are two very good Mavericks sites. Check them both out. You can also check out the Q&A I did with Jonathan for SB Nation Dallas here.

Keys to game: I really don’t have much to say about what it’s going to take to win this game. There are individual match ups that matter (Kobe will likely be guarded by Marion and/or Mayo most of the night, Dwight vs. Kaman has a chance to intrigue, Darius Morris will have his hands full with Collison, etc), but this really comes down to the Lakers finding a way to sort out some of their issues on both sides of the ball.

Can they get their bigs touches in the paint? Will we start to see more variety on O besides the P&R? Can the defense close down driving lanes? Will rotations be sharper? Will the bigs be able to help on drives and still recover to rebound the ball? The answers to these questions will determine how well the Lakers play which will go a long way towards determining a winner tonight.

Of course, the Lakers aren’t playing some faceless opponent tonight. The Mavs are a well coached team that really took advantage of the Lakers in the season opener with creative play calling and personnel groupings that took advantage of the Lakers. Their full court ball pressure defensively and quick strike, attack style offense got the Lakers on their heels and had them playing from behind all night. Tonight, on the road, you can expect the Mavs to have even more wrinkles to their game plan that the Lakers will need to adjust to. How well they can balance playing their style while countering what the Mavs do will matter a great deal.

Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on TWC Sports Net. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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