Lakers-Mavericks Preview: Third Place Is Second Loser

You might've heard that it takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. Well, I'm about to disprove that time-honored adage. Even though in the following paragraph I'll admit how I was grievously wrong about something, rest assured that I remain a spiteful, vindictive person who takes pleasure in the failures of others and blames his own shortcomings on forces outside his control. I am far from what anyone would consider to be a big man - except, of course, when it comes to satisfying your mom. (BOOM. Roasted!)

So here's what I was wrong about: the Dallas Mavericks. Last summer, I wrote a piece in which I ranked the Western Conference contenders by how much of a threat they were to knock off the Lakers this year. I got a few things right, like pegging the Spurs and Thunder as the top two challengers. (Low-hanging fruit, admittedly.) And I overrated the Jazz, which I'm not really going to beat myself up over. But about the Mavs... aye yai yai. I predicted a win total in the high forties, which they've already blown through with eight games still to play, and a regular-season finish just below the playoff cutline.

Was this the dumbest thing I've ever written? Sadly, probably not. Was it nonetheless pretty damn stupid? Seeing as how the Mavs are just a half-game back of the Lake Show with a chance to take over second place with a victory tonight at Staples Center, the unavoidable answer is: ayep.

How did my thinking about this Dallas team go so far astray? Let us count the ways.

1. The Effects (or Non-Effects) of Age. The Mavs were super freaking old last season, and they didn't get any younger over the summer. By "effective age," which weights average player age by playing time, they're still the oldest team in the league by a wide margin. This, I figured, would be the year their dependence on men of a certain age caught up with them.

Nope! Dirk Nowitzki (almost 33) is even better than he was last season and could be in line for first-team All NBA honors. Jason Terry (33) doesn't deserve to win Sixth Man of the Year over Lamar Odom but isn't showing any signs of decline. Shawn Marion (also nearly 33) is having arguably his best year since his Phoenix heyday. And Jason Kidd at age 38 (38, people!) is still a perfectly sound starting point guard. How do they do it? I'unno, but clearly I got too caught up in their collective geriatricity.

2. Tyson Chandler. Chandler, you might recall, was what Dallas settled for after failing in their attempts to turn Erick Dampier's nonguaranteed contract into LeBron James or any of last summer's other A-list free agents. Despite his solid work for Team USA at the 2010 FIFA Worlds, I didn't think Chandler would be a difference-maker. Over the past two seasons he'd missed 68 games to injury, and when he was on the court his performance was two or three steps down from his 2006-08 New Orleans peak.

As it happens, Chandler has been even better as a Mav than he was as a Hornet. He's stayed fairly healthy, having missed only seven games this season. On offense he's been a high-efficiency secondary scorer. (He leads the NBA in true shooting percentage.) And on D he's been an influential presence in the paint and a key contributor to the Mavs' improvement in defensive efficiency (i.e., points allowed per 100 possessions) from 107.5 last season to 105.2 this season. Accordingly, the scoreboard now reads Chandler - 1, Fishmore - 0.

3. Backcourt Depth. The Mavs are thin up front, with Brendan Haywood as their only quality big-man reserve, but they've put together one of the deepest backcourt rotations in the league. You know all about the JET. Alongside him they've got Jose Juan Barea, who's developed nicely in his fifth season, and Rodrique Beaubois, who returned from injury in mid-February and has moved into the starting lineup. Early in the year the Mavs enjoyed blistering shooting from DeShawn Stevenson, and when he cooled off Rick Carlisle routed his minutes to midseason pickup Peja Stojakovic, another thirtysomething with plenty left in the tank. On their own, none of these guys will set the world on fire, but together they give Carlisle an enviable menu of options that he can cycle through until he finds the hot hand. Last night at Staples Center the hand belonged to Barea, who scored 22 points in 21 minutes in the Mavs' victory over the Clippers. Anyhow, I anticipated none of this.

I don't need to tell you what's at stake when these two teams meet tonight. The winner has the inside track on the second seed in the West and with it home-court advantage in a probable second-round series. Opinions vary about how important HCA is to these Lakers, but I think we can all agree that having it is better than not having it. As late-March games go, this one is actually kind of important.

And it's one the Lakers should win. They're rested, they're at home, they're on more of a roll, and they're frankly just the better team. For whatever it's worth, the Mavs are only 1-5 against the Lakers at Staples Center in the Pau Gasol era. Vegas lists the Lakers as a fairly substantial (6½ point) favorite tonight.

It's hard not to have confidence in the champs right now. They're locked in to a degree we really haven't witnessed from them the last couple regular seasons. They have a real shot to finish the year with one of the best post-All Star break runs the league has ever seen. The Mavs, however, are standing in the way, and they'll likely stand in the way again when May rolls around. If I'm being honest, I still don't regard them as a serious threat to the Lakers, but if this season's proven anything, it's that you probably should take my dismissiveness with a bigass grain of salt. They've proven me wrong once and would no doubt be delighted to do so again.

 

                Mavericks               

                   Lakers                 

 


League Rank


League Rank

Record...................................

53-21

4

53-20

3

Net Points Per Game..............

+4.3

8

+6.6

3

Pace.......................................

91.0

19

90.5

21

Offensive Efficiency................

110.0

8

111.8

2

Turnover Rate......................

13.6%

20

12.3%

2

FTA/FGA............................

0.29

22

0.29

20

Free-Throw %......................

78.5

5

78.4

6

3PT FGA/FGA.....................

0.27

4

0.22

16

3PT%.................................

37.0

7

35.5

16

Effective FG%.....................

52.6

1

50.4

10

True Shooting%...................

56.8

3

54.8

11

Off Rebounding Rate............

24.0%

26

29.8%

3

Defensive Efficiency................

105.2

10

104.6

7

Turnover Rate......................

12.9%

19

12.9%

20

FTA/FGA............................

0.27

4

0.23

1

3PT FGA/FGA.....................

0.22

14

0.24

23

3PT%.................................

34.9

10

33.6

2

Effective FG%.....................

48.8

9

47.9

5

True Shooting%...................

52.8

7

51.6

4

Def Rebounding Rate............

74.7%

10

72.1%

23

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore. Numbers are courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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