Personally, I am a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms so I will keep this short and to the point. After Kobe was a late scratch on Christmas day, the Lakers gave a nice effort against the Bulls but ultimately got handled in the 2nd half to lose by 20. Tonight, then, on the second night of a back to back and again without Kobe while facing a very talented Mavs team, you have to wonder if they will suffer the same fate.
The Mavs, while only boasting the 6th best record in the West still grab two wins out of every three games they play. They have a fantastically efficient offense and, in a stunner of a trade last week, added Rajon Rondo to help shore up their defense at the point of attack. That deal was a gamble due to the potential to disrupt their ball movement heavy attack on O, but Rondo will bring a nice element to their semi-transition game and even if he is only half the defender he was pre-ACL tear, he will be a major upgrade over Jameer Nelson on that end of the floor.
The move, ultimately, was made with a deep playoff run in mind and it will be months before we see if that will pay off. I have my doubts, but that is as much about the gauntlet of the Western Conference as it is about any talent deficiencies the Mavs have. When you consider that the Spurs are currently the 7th seed and the Thunder (due to injuries) aren’t yet even amongst the top 8 teams, the playoffs will be a bloodbath where matchups will rule and a team who could make the conference finals will find itself out after the first round due to a bad draw and some luck that goes against them.
In any event, this is hint at what the Lakers are up against and, to a certain extent, what they hope to be in a year or two. The Mavs reworked their roster on the fly, using cap space and some assets to get back into playoff contention. The Lakers are hoping to make a similar push next summer, but we’ll see if they have the chips to play to get them there. This game, then, will serve as a reminder of how far the Lakers still have to go. The Mavs will punish the Lakers on the perimeter and space them out via pick and rolls, drive and kicks, and quick passes that move the ball from side to side. The Lakers have shown they simply struggle against teams who can put the ball on the floor against closeouts and hit shots when the closeouts are late. The Mavs aren’t the best shooting team (and Rondo made them worse in this area), but they have enough ability to hurt a team that doesn’t recover well and/or doesn’t show the discipline to rotate well and help the helper consistently. The Lakers, of course, are one such team.
Offensively, the Lakers will try to give the Mavs some of their own medicine by moving the ball and quickly swinging the ball when the defense over-commits. When Lin, Young, and Ellington share the floor the team is especially adept at this and made the Warriors pay earlier this week by making smart passes and then hitting shots when the defense didn’t get there in time (and even some shots when they did). If the Lakers have any hope of being in this game tonight, they will need a similar effort and hope to steal this game at the end. Playing on the road and for the second time in two nights, I have my doubts they can do this. Then again, this is why they play the games.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.