Archives For Dallas Mavericks

What is up, guys? So, it’s been a minute – hopefully this look ahead to Game 5 of what promises to be yet another oddity (different flavor, at least)of a Laker season finds you in good health.

When we last crossed paths, overstating the disarray that surrounded the Lakers would have posed quite the challenge. Wrapping up a season defined by tumult – the passing of a patriarch, upheaval and uncertainty on the bench, devastating injuries, the Next Great Laker eyeing the exit seemingly on arrival and cupboard shockingly devoid of youth, athleticism and, frankly, NBA talent – with Kobe Bryant shelved indefinitely and without a trump card to pull from their perpetually stacked deck, Mitch Kupchak and Co were staffed with the task of assembling transitional roster (I’ve gotta get diplomatic immunity for that, right?), on the cheap, without hamstringing their ability to go shopping next summer.

While acknowledging the myriad challenge that lay before the Lakers’ front office – the aforementioned financial constraints, an ascendant contender down the hall (still owned by a racist slumlord – never forget) also equipped with the “hey, ____, wouldn’t be cool to live and play in L.A.?” sales pitch – what emerged from the summer’s personnel machinations read like an obituary for optimism:

Chris Kaman, huh?… Hey, apparently Jordan Farmar’s back – Ok… Xavier Henry… at least he was a lotto pick?… Wes Johnson?! Isn’t that just English for Nikoloz Tskitishvili?… NICK YOUNG?!?! Really? Swaggy @$%4%$ P?!?!

It was dark.

On the other hand…

Though I’m not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season, I’m not not one to vocally advocate for openly tanking a season. And hell, if you’re ever going do it, this is supposedly the year… And man, if you’re in, might as well only do it once, and be the freaking Lakers of tanking.

Yeah, about that…

One week ago, the NBA’s island of misfit toys, err, the Lakers, opened the season with a matchup against their noisy neighbors, under the watchful eyes of a triumphant legacy, a legacy that, well… the hell with it – Oh, Doc. Shrouding the achievements of Baylor, West, Magic and Kareem so that giant Jared Dudley can watch over your squad? C’mon man! That’s just sad. Just slap a Pacific Division banner and Loy Vaught’s #35 on one of the other walls and be done with it.

Whew! That felt good. Sorry. Where were we? Oh yeah…

Last Tuesday evening, the Lakers’ curious collection kicked off its season as a near-double-digit underdog against the Clippers – and frankly my specs were not sufficiently rosy to allow me to expect what was to come. Unencumbered by the expectations that typically accompany the arrival of November in Lakerland, behind an early spark provided by Pau Gasol and fueled spectacularly by the desire and tireless effort of the Gallows Humor All-Stars, the Lakers took the fight to L.A.’s presumed contender. Not only did the Lakers dominate the offensive glass (15 off the bench – 11 from Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman), attack the paint and unleash an awesome 3-point barrage en route to 76 bench points (!!; That’s like a week’s work for your average Laker bench!) and a 13-point win, the backdrop against which they did so made for one of the most enjoyable victories in recent memory. For the first time in a long time, a Lakers win brought with it exuberance, and not relief. The Lakers as plucky upstarts.

With all due respect to the individual and collective abilities of the men comprising the 2013-14 Lakers’ roster, in an unaltered state it’s difficult to examine this crew and – in the absence of heroism the likes of which we’ve never seen from a still-rehabbing Kobe – concoct a scenario in which the accomplishments of this squad outstrip those of its 2012-13 predecessor. What we do have, however, is a collection of largely useful basketball players, without long-term financial commitments, looking to revive an NBA career, pen a successful final chapter, audition for a supporting role with a contender, capitalize on an opportunity to justify lofty draft status, or some combination thereof. And Nick Young.

And the opportunity to watch these guys work like hell to reclaim, reroute and resuscitate their NBA careers. And Nick Young.

The first stanza of the Lakers’ 2013-14 season has run the gamut. The euphoric haze of the shocking dismissal of the Clippers dissipating in Oakland, as the Lakers were rolled, lit up by Klay Thompson. Two nights later they once again flirted with an upset, challenging the (admittedly Duncan-less) defending Western Conference champion Spurs before coming up just short. And on Sunday, clinging to victory against the Atlanta Hawks after surrendering a double-digit lead they’d held throughout the game.

78 to go. It’s time to settle in.

Two years into their own retool-not-rebuild amid the professional twilight of their own generational great, face of the franchise, the Dallas Mavericks’ attempts to find a running mate of comparable stature for Dirk Nowitzki – via the pursuits of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Dallas native Deron Williams – have anticlimactically yielded Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert and DeJuan Blair. Tonight in Texas, the Lakers kick off what is certain to be a challenging three-game trip against the Mavs, with matchups against the Rockets and Pelicans looming Thursday and Friday, before returning home for six of their next seven games. And with Dallas looking at three road games of their own in the next four nights, starting in OKC tomorrow, they’ll surely muster their best shot for the Lakers.

Offensively, Dallas will present the Lakers with a range of challenges. Like the Lakers, the Mavs prefer to play at a breakneck pace (fourth in the NBA in pace; the Lakers rank first), but, through three games, have managed to do so far more effectively than the Lakers, ranking third in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency (111.3 points/ 100 possessions), and rank in the top 12 leaguewide in each of the “Offensive Four Factors”: eFG% (12th), Offensive Rebound Rate (11th),Turnover Rate (10th lowest) and FTA/FGA (3rd). The strong defensive effort from Wes Johnson will be huge here, as will the Lakers’ work on the offensive boards. (Note: Jordan Hill and his stellar 23.2% ORB Rate are banged up, but will be in action)

Not terribly surprisingly, however, a squad on which the Dirk/Monta/Calderon trio is logs roughly 100 minutes per night does not hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor, ranking 23rd in the NBA. Despite a similarly pedestrian ranking offensively (20th in the NBA), the Lakers must exploit the Mavs’ shortcomings at the defensive end – namely by getting to the line, as the Mavs’ .352 opponents’ FTA/FGA ratio ranks last in the NBA, and perhaps easing up a bit on the gas, and emphasizing lineups featuring both Pau and Chris Kaman, a handful to begin with, but potentially a nightmare for the Mavs with Brendan Wright out of action and Dalembert and Bernard James their only active bigs.

Beyond this as has been the case through the season’s first week (and likely will be going forward), the most vital components to a Laker victory will at the offensive end be energy, aggressiveness and outside shooting. In other words, Xavier Henry must build on the best week of his NBA life.

Enjoy the game everyone!

Records: Lakers: 38-22 (3rd in the West), Mavericks: 34-26 (6th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers: 106.1 (8th in the NBA), Mavericks: 102.8 (23rd in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers: 103.6 (13th in the NBA), Mavericks: 101.4 (7th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Delonte West, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out), Jordan Hill (out); Mavericks: Rodrigue Beaubois (questionable)

The Lakers Coming In: The Lakers woke up Sunday winners of three straight (all sans Kobe Bryant, whose enflamed shin has sidelined him for the last four and will likely do so again on Sunday) and seven of their last ten, and in sole possession of the second best mark out West over that stretch. Sadly, however, the best mark (8-2) is shared by the team directly ahead of them in the standings (the Spurs) and the two (the Clippers and Grizzlies – 1 and 2.5 games behind, respectively) nipping at their heels.

On the plus side – setting aside concerns about the Lakers’ cyborg superstar (the dude that’s suited up, played and played well with virtually every manner of non-fatal ailment known to basketball-playing man) missing his fifth consecutive game in the midst of a playoff-positioning charge, because, well, y’know, the alternative is kinda freaky – the Lakers have received some outstanding play from the rest of the crew. As one would expect from the West’s most daunting frontcourt duo, Andrew Bynum (21.3 points, 16.3 rebounds and 2 blocks per game in the last three, including a silly 30-board explosion in San Antonio) and Pau Gasol (a tidy 20-10 and 2) have stepped up admirably in Kobe’s absence.

Additionally, however, the supporting cast has turned in a series of strong performances. In the starting lineup, while Ramon Sessions (11.3 and 5.7 assists) has remained steady and solid, Metta World Peace had brought nothing short of his A-game in the Lakers’ last two victories, netting a season-high 26 (including 5-of-8 3-pointers) against the Spurs, and following it up with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals Friday night against the Nuggets.

Meanwhile, Matt Barnes has provided a welcome spark to the second unit. Barnes has not only averaged 15.3 and 8 rebounds over his last three (including his best game as a Laker on Friday night – 24 and 10, including a perfect 4-of-4 on 3s), he’s locked in from the outside, making 8-of-13 (!!) from beyond the arc and is distributing the ball without turning it over, handing out 15 assists and committing just 7 turnovers in his last five games.

Assuming the extended absence is simply attributable to Kobe shelving the bulletproof act in the interest of peaking in the postseason, the past week will prove invaluable as this team moves forward. While sights would undoubtedly be set on a lower target were the Lakers to enter the postseason Kobeless, for the rest of the team to prove –to themselves and to the rest of the league – that they can win, sometimes comfortably, on the road, against playoff-caliber opposition without Kobe is a huge boost.

The Mavericks Coming in: The Mavericks take the floor at Staples in a situation similar to that of the Lakers. Like their Sunday hosts, the Mavs are firmly ensconced in their half of the West playoff bracket (unlike the Lakers, however, Dallas is in the bottom half), but not set in stone with regard to positioning. The Mavericks, currently the West’s #6 seed (and at the moment slated for a playoff rematch with the Lakers), trail the Grizzlies by a game and a half and lead the Nuggets and Rockets (who face one another tonight) by the same margin.

Currently 0-7 on the road against currently winning at a .600+ clip (great stat, via Arash Markazi on Twitter) and staring down the barrel of a 4-0 regular season sweep at the hands of the Lakers, the Mavericks will be beneficiaries of the opposing injury report (they were spared trying to stop LaMarcus Alridge on Friday) for the second straight game.

After a slow start, Dirk Nowitzki has rounded into form (maybe not the transcendent form of last spring, but definite All-Star form), with 51 points in his last two games on just 37 shot attempts, averaging 21.2 per game (on 46%/36%/88.5% from FG/3-pt/FT – how’s that for an off year?) after a month of March in which he hit nearly 45% of his 3-pointers and over 92% of his free throws en route to 25.2 per game. In the three previous meetings between these teams, Dirk is averaging 24 and 9.7 in just 35 minutes per game. Barring a cameo from the 2011 iteration, holding Dirk to these averages and focusing on shutting down the remainder of what is now an offensively challenged lot (Jason Terry is a threat, but Jason Kidd, a nicked up Roddy Beaubois, Shawn Marion, whatever is left of Vince Carter, Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi? Meh) should prove sufficient for a Laker victory.

Mavericks blogs: For the latest news and some great insight on the Mavs, check out the work done by The 2-Man Game and Mavs Moneyball.

Keys to the Game: FEED. THE. BEAST. It’s really awesome to see Brandan Wright’s career finally get rolling, Ian Mahinmi is a nice player and Brendan Haywood is, well, big, but Tyson Chalder ain’t walking through that door. The key to victory over these Mavs – as it would be with Kobe in the lineup, but particularly with him out – will be to dominate the paint through Andrew Bynum.

With Kobe in a suit, however, the Mavs will utilize their zone defense to pack the paint and force the Lakers to settle for the contested 3-point attempts that will be in far greater supply. This will ratchet up the pressure on the Lakers’ remaining wings (MWP, Barnes), along with Pau Gasol, to loosen that grip from the free throw line area, by both making mid-range jumpers to keep the defense honest and executing crisp, decisive entry passes to Bynum when the opportunity is present.

An additional challenge presented by Kobe’s absence is that Shawn Marion, the Mavs’ best defender (held Kobe to 29 points, on 10-of-37 in 2 games this season; Kobe scored 30 in the game Marion missed) and wing rebounder, will be afforded the opportunity to focus his effort on crashing the boards and shutting down the likes of MWP and Barnes, without fear of a Mamba strike. If he is allowed to dictate the terms under which he will be involved in this game, Marion will be a thorn in the Lakers’ side. It is vital that the Lakers a) keep Marion off the boards as best they can, while b) making him work as hard as possible on the defensive end, by running him off of screen, making him defend post-ups, run him off of screens.

Where you can watch: 12:30 PM start time on ABC. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Box Score: Lakers 109, Mavericks 93
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 123.9, Mavericks 105.7
True Shooting %: Lakers 68.2%, Mavericks 53.5%

On the heels of a brutal come-from-ahead loss in Houston on Tuesday night, the Lakers wrapped up their Texas two-step in Dallas, where the defending champs and administrators of last spring’s postseason humiliation awaited. More tough sledding ahead? Not so much.

The Good: Practically everything. For starters, you know how all season the “Bad” and “Ugly” sections of these reviews have lamented the Lakers’ inability to a) connect from the outside and b) generate any kind of meaningful production off of the bench? Well, on Wednesday night, the Lakers made a phenomenal 50% of their 18 3-point attempts, six of them by bench players. Speaking of which, the Lakers’ bench was outscored by its Mavs’ counterpart by just two points, 38-36, staggering given we’re talking about, y’know, the Lakers’ bench.

In the starting unit, deadly efficiency ruled the day, as Kobe Bryant, operating within the confines of the offense, scored 30 on 11-of-18 from the floor (and 7-of-7 FT), peppering the Mavs from mid-range all night. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol was absolutely masterful. Pau played one of, if not his best game of the season, connecting on 13 of his 16 shots en route to 27 points (to which he added 9 rebounds). Gasol was unstoppable on Wednesday night, not only making 6-of-7 in the paint, but doing significant damage from the outside as well, shooting 8-of-10 from outside the key, including a perfect 7-of-7 from 17-20 feet between the elbow and success on his only 3-point attempt.

Finally, we have Ramon Sessions. Much to the chagrin of the fans of Cleveland, Sessions has sent shockwaves through Lakerland, providing us with a glimpse into a life that heretofore might as well have existed in another galaxy. Not since the days of Nick Van Exel have Laker fans had a young and explosive point guard at the helm. On Wednesday night, Ramon Sessions played the point guard game that this fan base has desperately been waiting for. In 29 minutes, divided into two extended stretches, Ramon was a revelation, connecting on 7 of 8 shots, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc for his 17 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and handing out 9 assists.

Every bit as impressive as his phenomenal stat line was his role in the Lakers’ offense, which only really came to life when he was on the floor. Sessions’ greatest assets are his quickness and speed off the dribble, which he utilized beautifully, starting almost immediately after entering the game with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter, knifing into the lane and, with excellent decision-making, setting up open jump shots for teammates for each of his 9 assists, including four in a two-minute span late in the first quarter.

We’ve got a point guard!

The Bad: With the third member of their underperforming trio now spending his evenings trying to reign in Russell Westbrook, the “subpar stat line” onus was on Metta World Peace and Steve Blake. Now, truth be told neither of these guys was a complete disaster against the Mavs – MWP managed 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a blocked shot in 25 minutes, while Blake, Mike Brown’s starting point guard “for the foreseeable future,” had two pair, assists and steals, in 17 minutes on the floor – but a combined 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting, even with no turnovers, in 42 minutes is, how can I put this gently, kinda stinky.

The Ugly: Thanks to his averages of 23.7 points and 12.3 rebounds over the last 10 games, Andrew Bynum was obviously a focal point in the Mavericks’ defensive game plan. In the game’s opening minute Bynum grabbed a defensive rebound and converted a pretty reverse layup at the other end. However, rather than building on this dominating this contest the way he has so many of late, that play was the last one of consequence from the big man for some time.

Bynum was (understandably) the target of aggressive double and triple teams on every post touch from that point forward, and was unable to deliver the ball to the open man in a timely or effective manner. This strategy proved particularly effective for the Mavs in the first half, as the Lakers’ perimeter players frequently cut baseline after delivering the ball to Bynum down low. This tactic actually simplified the Mavs’ task, as they doubled aggressively off of the cutter, giving ‘Drew fits and preventing the Lakers from ever establishing him as an offensive threat.

However, the ugliness in Bynum’s performance on Wednesday night is not the result of Mavs’ defense pressuring him into an inefficient offensive game (he was 4-of-5 from the field) or sloppy effort passing out of the post (he didn’t turn the ball over once), but in Andrew’s generally lackadaisical effort. Far too often on Wednesday, Bynum was boxed out on both the offensive and defensive glass by smaller player that have no business doing so. Far too often he jogged back on offense, often not setting up inside the 3-point arc until 10+ seconds of the possession were gone. Perhaps the best example of this lackluster effort came in the first quarter, when, attempting to guard Dirk Nowitzki on the perimeter, Bynum not only failed to get into a defensive stance, but barely had a chance to turn around as the Mavs’ (by far) most potent offensive threat blew by him for a layup.

This is by no means a chronic issue and all’s well that ends well, but for a guy whose untimely ejection set the stage for crushing come-from-ahead loss the night before, Andrew Bynum spent far too much time on Wednesday play with little-to-no spark at all.

Play of the Game: With all of that said, Andrew Bynum linked up with fellow big Pau Gasol with about eight minutes left in the game – this time successfully passing out of a double team – firing a cross-court kick-out to the right corner, from which Pau buried a three-point dagger that put the Lakers ahead 90-76.

On its own this play would not be worthy of PoG, but the brazen, villainous confidence of ‘Drew made it truly memorable. In front of the crowd that is more eager than any other to see him fail (he did, after try to break their gelled-up midget 10 months ago), after making the pass to Gasol, Bynum made his way back down the floor with the ball still in the air, three fingers held aloft for all to see.

Badass.

Unfortunately for the Laker bigs, however, the top spot belong to one Kobe Bean Bryant, who, midway through the third quarter, received a lob from Pau Gasol and finished in a manner that can only be described as sublime.

At what point does a person’s income preclude him from complaining about some of life’s breaks? Is there a line of demarcation? $10 million per year? A million? $500,000? $100,000? At what point does compensation beget dehumanization?

Though I share neither their income bracket nor VIP status, I have a tendency to empathize with athletes and celebrities. Despite the immense financial rewards and public adulation bestowed upon them, in many ways they are, in fact, “just like us.”

I’m talking not about occasional trip to Starbucks or fashion and dining choices that fit within even the strictest of budgets, but preferences, comfort zones, insecurities and emotional vulnerability. A person that has successfully refined and focused a specific skill set in such a manner that it is valued, in a free market, at several million dollars annually, does not cease to be a person.

Somewhere along the line, we as a society came to equate fame and considerable financial means with the complete absence of hardship and dissatisfaction with one’s existence. You don’t need to be just scraping by to love the city in which you live, genuinely enjoy your family, hate your boss or experience heart-shattering pain. Make no mistake, a life free of financial shackles is very often preferable to one that is not, but – and I strongly doubt that you need me to explain this to you – money doesn’t equate to happiness, it simply provides the security required to pursue it on one’s own terms. I lay this before you not because I think the rich and famous are in need of a crusader (though I imagine that would pay pretty well), but because over the past few days we have seen a number of NBAers, men of considerable means all, have their professional (and by extension, personal) lives dramatically altered by forces beyond their control. And regardless of income, they have every right to be unhappy about it – none more than Lamar Odom.

We’ll begin Thursday evening when, as you might have heard, executives from the Lakers, Hornets and Rockets agreed on the terms of trade that would land Chris Paul in L.A., deposit Lakers All-Star Pau Gasol in Houston and send draft picks, the Rockets’ 1-2 punch of Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to NOLA, along with Odom, the NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year. As you also might have heard, for (basketball) reasons that continue to defy explanation, the increasingly dictatorial David Stern shot down the agreed-upon swap, along with a second iteration submitted by the teams, before the Lakers officially withdrew from talks on Saturday.

In light of the nixed deal(s), there was little doubt that awkwardness would abound at Lakers camp. While an admittedly unhappy Gasol arrived on Saturday at the team’s facility in El Segundo on time and said all the right things, Odom, as deeply emotional (do not confuse this with “demonstrative”) a player as there is in the NBA, was nowhere to be found. He arrived early that afternoon but stayed only long enough to complete a physical and chat briefly (read “request a trade”) with GM Mitch Kupchak, who quickly obliged, sending Odom to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, in exchange for a $8.9 trade exception (presumably to be used in attempt to acquire Dwight Howard) and a first-round draft pick that may or may not be utilized before the next lockout.

Surely aware that the Lakers’ attempt to trade him stemmed not from displeasure with him personality or on-court performance, Lamar’s reaction is exactly the type that sparks populist drum circles, with accompanying demands throughout the media that he “suck it up” and appreciate that playing a “kid’s game” will earn him roughly $9 million this year.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Plagued by inconsistency and immaturity early in his career, in seven years as a Laker, Odom evolved as a player, grew as a man and found love (say what you will about the show, but over two years and nary a problematic blip). Never a selfish player, Odom emerged as a calming veteran influence on three Finalists and a pair of championship teams, doing whatever was asked of him in the name of victory. His Swiss Army knife skill set created matchup nightmares all over the floor. When called upon, he ran the point. In a pinch, he logged minutes in the middle. Despite having more raw talent than all but a few players in NBA history, in 2008, for the good of the team, Odom agreed, without complaint, to come off of the bench.

On-court sacrifice not really moving you? No worries…

If there is any player of whom “not about the money” rings most true, Odom, a favorite of both teammates and fans and by all accounts the epitome of a gentle soul, is that player. The lone non-Kobe constant of the post-Shaq Lakers, not only did Odom sacrifice on the floor, he left eight figures on the table (anyone doubt that his last contract, 4 years, $36 million, could have topped $50 million?) as a free agent because he loves living in Southern California. If all of that – legitimately checking his ego at the door and foregoing millions to play where he wanted – is somehow still not enough, credit him for the perspective he’s gained, more appropriately, had forced upon him, by having to overcome more heartbreak and sorrow in 32 years than most of us will endure in a lifetime.

He lost his mother to colon cancer at age 12. At age 24, the beloved grandmother that raised him also succumbed to cancer. Three years later, to the day, Lamar lost a child, six-month old Jayden, to SIDS. His father, a heroin addict and absentee for much of his life, has reemerged, hand out. Last summer, while in New York to attend his cousin’s funeral, Lamar was a passenger in a car that struck a motorcycle, leading to the death of a nearby pedestrian.

You really wanna call this guy a me-first prima donna?

Best of luck, Lamar. You are already missed. You’ll always have a place in Lakerland.