Tonight, the Lakers take the court at Staples Center for their 2nd game of the season. The first game was almost an afterthought. The Lakers received their championship rings, unveiled their new banner, and then played a game that we all know they weren't full focused on. For once, no one should really have a problem with it. If the Lakers win the championship again this year, no one on SS&R will begrudge them a distracted game for the season opener next season either.
Tonight should be a little different. The Lakers might still play an unfocused game, but they won't have any excuses if they do. Tonight is just about basketball. So how have these two teams looked coming in?
Dallas Mavericks (0-1, 100.5 OR, 112.7 DR, 90.5 possessions per game)
Dallas played opening night, same as the Lakers. They lost at home to the Washington Wizards, behind an excellent game from newly returned star Gilbert Arenas. Both teams had a lot of new players (either from trades or, in Washington's case, returning from injury), so how they played isn't necessarily indicative of what's to come from either team. Last year, Dallas surprised a few people by gelling as the season went on. They were one of the better teams down the stretch (after it was initially unclear if they would even make the playoffs), and ended up with the 6th seed. They promptly defeated the weakened Spurs in an upset that surprised very few, before getting annihilated by Denver in the Western Conference Semis. They've made a few changes to last year's roster that have many saying they are poised for a great year, the biggest being the addition of Shawn Marion. I personally remain unconvinced that Marion is anything other than a decent player who Steve Nash made look incredible, but I guess if you were going to pick a point guard besides Nash who could get the most out of Marion, you would have to pick ... Chris Paul. Gotcha! But seriously, Kidd would be high up on the list of point guards to know what to do with Marion's athletic talents. And their season depends upon how well Marion can be integrated into the Mavericks offense, while hopefully improving a defensive team that has a lot of liabilities.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-0, 101.6 OR, 94.4 DR, 97.5 possessions per game)
The Lakers' mentality on opening night has already been described here, so we'll talk a bit about the game. In the game itself, it was clear that the Laker starting 5, even without Pau, was vastly superior than a Clippers starting 5 (missing Blake Griffin) that has a good deal of talent, as evidenced by a 10 point lead at the end of the 1st quarter. It was also clear that DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell should never see the floor together unless a game is out of reach, as the 2nd unit gave up all of the lead in a short 6 minute stretch. The starters came back in and rebuilt a double digit lead by halftime. The 3rd quarter saw those same starters visibly let up their intensity, and the Clippers made a run to make the game a one point affair. If the 2nd unit had had a similar 6 minute stretch at the beginning of the 4th quarter to the one at the beginning of the 2nd, this game could have ended badly for the Lake Show. But the coaches saw to it that wouldn't be the case. No 5 man unit in the 4th quarter had less than two starters in it. The Lakers pulled out a relatively comfortable victory, leading by as much as 13 in the 4th before setting for a 7 point win. But there are some numbers that, while not concerning over a one game sample, would be bad news over the course of the season. Those numbers are: 41, 40, 38, 38, and 33. They are the minutes played of our starters, Artest, Odom, Bynum, Bryant, and Fisher respectively, and they are all too high. The Lakers have too much talent to need anyone to play more than 38 a game, and Fisher is supposed to be much lower than 33. But the bench needed a couple starters to hold their hands. The Lakers bench is the key to their regular season success, and if the bench continues to struggle, L.A. will not be as strong as they could, and should, be.
Make the jump for some matchup analysis
Dallas' starting 5 consists of Jason Kidd and Quinton Ross at the guards, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion at the forwards, and Erik Dampier at C, although Quinton Ross as a starter is pure lip service, because Dallas employs Jason Terry off the bench as an offensive jump-starter, even though Terry is probably the Mavericks 2nd best player. In the first game of the year, Ross played 19 minutes, and Terry played 37, so you tell me who the starter is. Moving on, their bench consists of JET, Jose Barea, Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries. Dallas is a pretty old team, so they don't really run the ball much, as evidenced by their slow pace in the last game, and relatively slow pace last season (17th in the NBA). Look for Dallas to run a lot of half court sets for Nowitzki, who is the Mavericks' horse. Too much so, in fact. Jason Kidd said after their first game "If we have to ride Dirk that much, it'll kill him." Against a team as good as the Lakers, don't expect Dallas to try anything new tonight, so it will still be a heavy dose of Das German. Outside of Nowitzki, Dallas' offense revolves around quick guard penetration, with JET and Barea doing most of the damage there.
Defensively, this is not a great team, because their best players on offense are varying degrees of a liability on defense. Kidd is just too slow to be the defensive master he once was, and defense has never been the forte of Dirk. However, with Marion playing heavy minutes, and Dampier anchoring the middle, they are not bad defensively either. Pretty much middle of the road.
The Lakers starting 5 will unfortunately remain unchanged from the first game. I say unfortunately because that means another game without Pau Gasol. The starters will be Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom, and Bynum. This unit played pretty well in the first game, building 3 big leads (though they lost one of the leads on their own). If, as we expect, Phil Jackson's rotations off the bench will be geared towards matchups on an individual night, look for tonight's guards to be Farmar and Sasha, with Brown getting only a few minutes. Walton should get more than the 3 minutes from the first game, unless that's indicative of where PJ wants to go with his rotations. And I think we can all get on board with saying that hopefully Powell and Mbenga will be used sparingly, and never at the same time.
Comparing the lineups, it doesn't look great for Dallas. Their bread and butter, getting the ball to Nowitzki, won't work as well as they'd like because the Lakers employ Lamar Odom, who has both the speed and size to keep Dirk from getting whatever he wants. Nowitzki will still be successful, but he probably won't have his most efficient night. So look for Dallas to bring in Jason Terry early, and utilize him to great effect. How the Lakers counter the quick Dallas guards off the bench will determine whether this is a close game or a blowout. Plus, Jason Kidd might be the one point guard in the league Derek Fisher can still guard straight up.
For the Lakers on offense, Bynum already passed the test against an OK defensive center with good size in Chris Kaman, now he gets an undersized center who is very strong. If Bynum continues to be successful against Dampier, it will be just another sign that dominant Bynum is real. Other then that, the Lakers should be alright across the board. Artest and Marion will probably cancel each other out, but Marion doesn't have the strength that Artest does, so Artest might be able to bull rush his way into the lane. But, as it always is, the reason the Lakers look very strong against this team on offense is Kobe Bryant. Most teams don't have a way to stop Kobe, but Dallas is really lacking in that area. Quinton Ross is the only viable option for the Mavericks on Kobe, and he only played 20 minutes the other night. A backcourt of Kidd and JET, which the Mavericks like to employ, will get destroyed by Kobe. So either the Mavericks limit themselves on offense to even have a chance at containing Bryant defensively, or they try to outscore LA by putting their best offensive foot forward. The Lakers will do both at the same time.
Prediction: Without the distractions of opening night, the Lakers come out with a bit more focus and purpose. Also, having experimented in the first game, PJ will keep his lineups off the bench a little less crazy. This should fall somewhere between a less than comfortable win and a blowout for the Lakers, depending on how well the bench executes.