With the Lakers’ loss to the Kings on Wednesday night, they fell to 2nd to last in the West and boast the 6th worst record in the league. With only seven games left to play, the Lakers place in the standings is pretty much the only compelling storyline left.
Will they stay in 6th? Will they “climb” the standings and get to 5th or even 4th? A few games to watch as the season comes to a close are the Lakers game against the Jazz in the 2nd to last game of the year and the two games the Celtics play against the 76ers. Those three games may mean the difference between staying in 6th or moving up in the lottery. This is what the Lakers are fighting for now.
On the other end of the spectrum is Friday’s opponent, the Mavs. On Thursday night they held on to get a much needed win over the Clippers, advancing their cause to make the playoffs in the process. The Mavs’ magic number is now 6 and they control their own destiny to make the tournament.
Of course, playing a hard fought game against the Clippers isn’t exactly the best set of circumstances to be in when coming into Staples to play the Lakers. The Mavs have the Lakers outgunned from a talent perspective, but fatigue can be a great equalizer. Add in the fact that the Lakers can get hot from behind the arc and have been carrying the mantra of “player haters” who want to try and spoil playoff teams’ hopes and this creates an interesting scenario that bears watching.
All things being equal, the Mavs should win this game simply because they are the better team. Add in the fact that the Lakers remain banged up and shorthanded (my guess is that Pau and Nash both sit out again and that Xavier Henry may join them) and a full strength Mavs team looks even better on paper than they already did.
But the games aren’t played on paper (something people who watched last season’s Lakers know all too well) and if the Mavs come in tired, unfocused, or a combination of both and the Lakers have a chance to steal a game. (As an aside, I don’t know which fan base would be more upset if this actually occurred considering how much wins and losses mean to both franchises right now.)
As for the X’s and O’s of this game, there are a few match ups that I am interested in seeing. First, is the battle of the point guards where Jose Calderon and Kendall Marshall will face off. On most nights Marshall is outmatched physically and is relegated to either chasing a quicker player around or forced to play an opposing shooting guard or small forward (whichever is the lesser offensive player) in order to be hidden defensively. Calderon is neither a speedster nor an overwhelming physical talent, so Marshall will likely match up with him all night. What Calderon is, however, is crafty with his dribble and a strong pick and roll practitioner. Marshall will have his hands full trying to navigate screens and will have to choose wisely when deciding whether to go under picks and give up jumpers or chase over the top and allow Calderon an angle to penetrate.
The equation gets trickier when Dirk is setting the screen as the big German will either flare to the arc to spot up for a three pointer or dive to the FT line area where he can get into the middle of the defense and either shoot his jumper or try to work a mid-range post up that draws help defenders and opens up teammates. It will be interesting to see how Ryan Kelly (and Jordan Hill) do when defending the big German and whether they can effectively move him off his preferred spots to make him more of a passer than the efficient scorer he’s been all season (and all his career).
The other match up I am interested in seeing is Kent Bazemore getting some minutes on Monta Ellis. While I envision Meeks starting on Monta, I can also see Bazemore getting some chances on Ellis when Marion slides up to PF or when cross-matches occur. In recent games Bazemore has been more active in using his length to try and disrupt ball-handlers and has been pretty good about getting on ball steals. Monta has always been an attack player, but has really cut down on shooting threes this season in favor of trying to get into the teeth of the defense more. I am interested in seeing if Bazemore can keep Monta out of the paint and use his length to contest his jumper as well as force him into turnovers when he tries to create off the bounce.
Offensively, I am interested in seeing how much the Lakers can use tempo to their advantage to try and wear the Mavs down. As mentioned, Dallas should be a bit tired and the Lakers would love nothing more than try and increase the pace and make Dallas get into a chaotic game, increasing the chances for mistakes to be made. At the end of the Clippers game the Mavs showed cracks in how they handle defensive pressure and did a poor job of keeping their poise and playing smart. If the Lakers can recreate that environment in this game, Dallas will have issues.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.