A while back, SB Nation's network of NBA bloggers came together to pose an important question: What is the best way we could show off both our knowledge of basketball and our monumental levels of nerdiness at the same time? How about a fictional 3-on-3 tournament which is determined by creating odds based on the favor-ability of each matchup and then determining the results via a roll of the dice. No, not cool regular six-sided dice that can be used for acceptably popular activities like craps or Yahtzee. We're talking ten-sided dice, the kind that cannot be owned for any "cool" reason. That's right folks, we've created a basketball themed Dungeons and Dragons game.
Well, to the surprise of no one, the Los Angeles Lakers threesome of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant is doing quite well. Tomorrow, they will fictitiously take on the Dallas Mavericks, who did them the favor of knocking off a tough Oklahoma City team in the previous round. The Mavericks threesome of Dirk Nowitzki, Delonte West, and Elton Brand is formidable, if only because one player is enough to make it so. The Mavericks are very much a one-trick pony, even if that one trick is pretty damn spectacular.
So, this is my case to you, and more importantly, to the panel of judges who will decide the percentages of the contest, as to why the Los Angeles Lakers should be heavily favored to advance. It's kind of an easy sell.
Offense -- Have you met Dwight Howard?
The Mavs team has a lot of size, and size is a good quality in basketball. But what the Mavs most certainly do not have is size with any kind of athleticism to go with it. Dirk is plenty big, but he has neither the speed nor the strength to be able to defend Howard. The task of defending Dwight would then fall to Elton Brand, who is well past his prime. Howard is bigger, faster, and stronger, all by significant margins.That's not an equation for success for the Mavericks, even before Dallas has to consider that defense of Dwight will have to take place after their personnel is all out of position because of the Steve Nash pick and roll, with Kobe Bryant standing alone in the corner thinking "They know I'm one of the best players ever, right?" My guess is, in a game to 30 by twos and threes, you could count the number of defensive stops for the Mavs on one hand. That's not going to get it done.
Defense -- Dirk is a problem, but the Lakers have multiple solutions.
On defense, the Lakers really only have one concern, containing Dirk. The Dallas offensive strategy is very much a one-trick pony approach. So how do the Lakers defend the big German? They take turns. Kobe starts out on Dirk, which is not ideal because Nowitzki can just shoot over the top, but there is a history of feisty smaller defenders causing Dirk to have trouble, and Kobe is nothing if not feisty. And then, if Dirk is using his size to too great an effect, the Lakers can switch Howard over to Dirk and provide him with the kind of challenge he rarely faces...somebody against whom Dirk does not have any significant physical advantage. Usually, Dirk is bigger than his defenders, or quicker and more agile than the others. But Howard is cast from a different mold. He would cause Dirk problems on offense, which is significant because of how few problems Dallas can pose the Lakers on the other end.
But wait, you can't just throw Dwight on Dirk and ignore the consequences? That leaves Kobe to get eaten up by Elton Brand in the post! Well, yes it does. But I don't think that advantage is nearly as strong as what is taken away with Howard on Nowitzki. Take it from a short, fat white guy who mostly has to play against much bigger, stronger guys when he takes the basketball court: at a certain point, interior defense is about the size of fight in the dog, and no dog has more fight in him than Kobe. He'll fight Brand for every inch of post position and make life hell for Brand, even if Brand can take advantage from time to time.
The Mavericks just don't have enough to come away from this with even a sporting chance. Dirk Nowitzki provides a matchup conundrum, but we haven't even talked about the opposite side of that conundrum: Either Dirk or Brand will have to guard Kobe Bryant, which is not a pretty sight. The Lakers should win this one hands down.