Records: Lakers 26-6 (1st in West) Mavericks 23-10 (2nd in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108 (12th in league), Mavericks 107.4 (13th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101 (3rd in league) Mavericks 102.6 (5th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Jose Juan Barea, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Erick Dampier.
Lakers Tonight: While they are officially saying Ron Artest is a game time decision, don’t bet on him playing tonight.
By the way, I keep reading how the Lakers defense has struggled with Artest out, which is sort of true, it has exacerbated the problems. But, the Lakers had bad defensive games with him against Oklahoma City and Cleveland — the problems were starting before Artest failed to climb a few stairs.
By the way, some have talked about Fisher’s minutes getting reduced, as if he is being phased out. I think Wondahbap hit the nail on the head:
I think it’s naive to think Phil is phasing Fish out. One thing we ca always count on Phil for is seeing the big picture and getting his teams to peak when it matters. What we’re seeing is Phil realizing that we *need* Farmar and/or Shannon to play well in order to repeat. Fish is Fish. Allowing all three to struggle helps no one. They all need to play with confidence, and letting the younger two get crunch time minutes allows them to get comfortable in their roles – and improve. Yet, it takes pressure off Fish, but makes him realize he has to play better.
The Mavericks Coming In: The Lakers are catching the Mavericks on the second night of a back-to-back, one in which Dallas pushed the pace, as the Mavs beat the Kings in Sacramento last night. Don’t look at the 8 point margin and think it was close, the Kings scrubs went on a meaningless 11-0 run late to make the score look more respectable than the game was.
These Mavs are a lot like the Lakers in that people think of them as an offensive team but they have the second best record in the West because they are a good defensive team. Last night they forced Sacramento into 18 turnovers. But the real key — like the Lakers — is that the Maverick’s don’t let other teams shoot a high percentage — 47.4% (eFG%). (That is almost the same as the Lakers at 47%.) The Lakers and Mavericks are 1-2 in the lowest opponent true shooting percentage in the league, and both teams are keeping opponents shooting below 59% at the rim. The Mavs are doing it by smart switching, and using their length to disrupt shooters. Dallas is also third in the league in the rate of blocked shots — 6.4 per 100 possessions.
On offense, Dirk is still option number one. And two. But watch for Jason Terry off the bench, plus Marion and Kidd can have big games. So can Barea. Also, unlike the last meeting Josh Howard, is back, giving Dallas more depth.
The good defense begs this question: Are the Mavs for real this year. Are they, along with Denver, the teams that actually could give the Lakers problems in the Western Conference playoffs? A lot of people are not sold based on past history, but if the Mavericks really have turned the defensive corner it’s a discussion worth having again. The answer could be different.
Mavericks blog and random thought: Very smart Mavs blog at The Two Man Game.
The Kamenentzy Brothers have been doing great work over at the Land O’ Lakers, you should be reading them. And their game preview of tonight.
One thing I’m curious to see is how hard David Stern comes down on the Wizards and Gilbert Arenas after this latest incident. Forgetting the he said/he said nature of the allegations for a moment, the fact is that guns and gambling became a heated discussion in the locker room, guns were in play and that spilled out to the media and public at large. Stern put in a dress code and (to a lesser extent) a draft age limit to help quell the “gansta” image of the players in the league (the debate about the wisdom of that is another topic entirely). This incident brings back that image. Expect some severe reprimands to come down. It is going to get ugly. Or maybe uglier is the better way to phrase that.
Keys to game: On offense, the Mavs are a screen-and-roll team and they have the personnel to make it hard to cover — Dirk setting, with Kidd or Barea or Terry handling the ball makes for a tough combination. What’s more, Dallas gets their guard the ball off other screens quite often, meaning the defense is often a little off-balance and there is space to operate when the play starts. Fisher/Farmar/Brown/Kobe need to get through those picks and make it hard to start the play smoothly, and when it does start Gasol/Bynum need to defend it well. Because Odom and Gasol tend to defend the P&R better, we may see more of them as the tandem tonight.
Also, if Dallas has a mismatch they will go at it. They are one of the best teams in the league at recognizing and exploiting mismatches (particularly if they can post someone up) in the league.
Of late the Mavs have become big fans of the zone defense, expect to see it tonight. The Lakers know how to break it — flashes into the middle of the paint by bigs, kick outs and threes over the top when the defense collapses down. The Lakers need to work inside out and not settle for long jumpers, the Lakers need to be patient. If the Lakers rush, it will be an ugly night.
Where you can watch: 6:30 p.m. start on Fox Sports here in Los Angeles, and of course ESPN 710 radio.