Break up the Lakers! Well, not really. But after two straight wins — on the road, no less — the Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season. You can qualify the wins as them coming against the Hawks and their bottom third defense and a Rockets’ team missing Dwight Howard, and you’d be well within your rights. These are real variables that matter and should be taken into account. On the other hand, the Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the league this year. Any win they get is one that, at the end of the year, opponents will probably want back.
Tonight the Lakers are back at it, again on the road, facing the 9-3 Mavs. Dallas has been one of the better teams in the league this year, mostly on the strength of their #1 rated offense. They are scoring a ridiculous 114.9 points per 100 possessions, a full 5.8 points better than the 2nd place Pelicans. To put that in perspective, the difference between Dallas and New Orleans is the same difference between New Orleans and the 18th ranked Nuggets. In other words, they really are lapping the field.
This will be a real problem for the still last place defensively ranked Lakers. The Mavs have firepower all over the floor and offer a balanced attack that will hurt teams much in the way last year’s Spurs did. They seek out not just a good shot, but the best one they can generate against a scrambling defense. They cut, pass, screen, and do so all with a great feel for how to operate within the structure of their offense. They play with purpose on that end and slowing them down is a nightmare.
For the Lakers, then, their hope isn’t going to be in slowing down the high octane Mavs, but in scoring enough points to keep the game somewhat competitive. The Mavs have a capable defense — reacquiring Tyson Chandler has helped — but the Lakers should be able to find ways to score should they be smart and advantageous with their opportunities.
And while we can discuss Kobe and/or Nick Young’s role in this, I’m really looking at Jeremy Lin. After struggling with Patrick Beverley draped on him like a wet sheet, Lin should find more breathing room against the likes of Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, and JJ Barea. In the half court, Lin will need to be assertive on his drives and attempt to occupy the 2nd defender (especially when that man is Chandler) to generate shots for his teammates. Further, he will need to push the pace and try to create opportunities in the open court to generate easier baskets.
We know that Kobe and Young’s aggression will not wane. But if Lin can join the party it will create more offense for the team as he’s the player who will actively get into the lane and create the types of chances that turn into opportunities for Ed Davis and Jordan Hill around the rim. And if the Lakers can get those types of inside looks and manage to outwork the Mavs on the glass and in the paint, this game could be interesting.
Of course, it’s important to bring the focus back to what is possible from a hopeful perspective to the opposite. The Mavs aren’t just the better team, they are vastly better. They are at home and playing a Lakers’ team playing their 3rd game in four nights. The Lakers’ legs are bound to be weary — especially Kobe’s since he’s logged some heavy minutes in these two wins — and they could find themselves behind early. In other words, a win would be a complete surprise and totally unexpected.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.