After a slight misstep in Miami on Thursday, the Lakers' Post All-Star Break Revenge Tour rolls on and stops in Dallas tonight. Realistically, this match-up vs the Mavericks means more than the hype-fest that took place in "Soufth Beach."
Sure, us fans want Kobe to beat LeBron and D-Wade - probably more than we want the Lakers to beat the Heat - but outside of the personal grudge match hysteria, gaining ground on the Mavs is more important in the grand scheme of things. We might see Miami in the Finals. We might not. Who knows? One thing we do know, is that it'll be easier for the Lakers to get back to the Finals if they hold homecourt versus Dallas. This seems to be the one team the Lakers have yet to meet in the Playoffs, and all indications are that they finally will.
At least Dallas isn't on a losing streak this time around. Since the Lakers seem to be the perfect pick-me-up to spell any prolonged right column blemishes. Last time the Mavs played the Lakers, they were mired in a six game losing streak. Injuries were piling up, and their season looked like it was taking a serious turn for the worst. But everyone comes to play against Black Mamba and the boys. Cleveland can't win at home? No worries...the Lakers are coming. The Heat are playing their absolute worst? It's okay. The Lake Show is on the way. Nothing cures bad play like a match-up with the defending champs.
Luckily for us, Dallas is playing great right now, and the Lakers are fresh off a loss to the ESPN Hype Machine. Just like that, there's something to prove again. This game couldn't have come at a better time.
Since using a purple and gold rope to pick themselves off the mat, the Mavs have won 20 of 24 games. When healthy, Dallas is a very good team. Personally, they scare me a hell of a lot more than the Spurs do. They're great on offense; they play defense; they're a veteran team, with a superstar, a Hall of Fame bound point guard, a 6th Man of the Year, length to battle with Lakers bigs, former All-Star caliber role players, what has turned out to be a decent bench, and a good coach to boot. Blah, blah, blah...they're good.
In their last match-up, Dallas won 100-109 at home. The Mavs bombed away from the three-point line in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Quarters:
"...after a first quarter in which they missed eight of 10 from long distance and fell behind by eight, Dallas spent the next two periods dropping bomb after bomb on a lazy, disorganized, undisciplined Laker defense. For the game the Mavs made 12 of 26 three-pointers, led by Jason Kidd (5 for 8) and Jason Terry (4 for 6), neither of whom the Lakers displayed the slightest interest in guarding. In this manner the Mavs were able to overcome a meager 5-for-15 night from Dirk Nowitzki and bang out an extravagant 1.30 points per possession."
Unfortunately, the Lakers have to deal with more than Kidd and Terry. The Mavs will have Rodrigues Beaubois this time. He has "shit on Fish" written all over him. If Peja Stojakovic can walk (Update: Peja is out tonight), he can spread the floor. The Mavs are deep, but the Lakers now are playing much better defense than they did that game. With the help of Bynum cleaning up in the middle, the wings have been successfully running opponents off the three, and into a sea of seven-footers. Against the Mavs, this will be vital, since Dallas prefers to score from the perimeter. Their front court doesn't use the post as a mode to getting buckets. Dirk Nowitzki is going to the Hall of Fame one day because of his midrange game. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood aren't scorers, and Shawn Marion is known more finishing and hustle baskets than he is for posting up or creating. Marion could be a problem though. Marion killed L.A. last time around, and if the Lakers lose track of him, like they did with Mike Miller, Shawn Marion will have a field day on cheap offensive rebounds, loose balls, and transition opportunities.
So, what the Lakers need to do is keep Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Beaubois, Peja, and Dirk from raining down open treys. Force the Mavs into their un-comfort zone, and stay on the defensive glass to prevent cheap scores. Beaubois and J.J. Barea are Dallas' only threat to penetrate. Bynum's activity has to allow the wings from helping out and giving them space to create.
On offense, the Lakers were able to score fairly easily. So, as long as Pau doesn't revert back to super-passive, then allow the Mavs to create turnovers for transition buckets, the Lakers should continue to pick apart the Mavs:
"So comprehensive was their defensive collapse that the Lakers' own, generally sound offensive performance, which saw them score 1.19 points per trip, went for naught. Kobe Bryant had 21 points and 10 assists, and Lamar Odom (20 points on 14 shots) and Pau Gasol (23 points on 16 shots) both shot the ball well. Even the one-two point guard "punch" of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake managed to land a few blows, as they combined for 16 points on just 10 shots. The attack stagnated for a bit in the third quarter, and it would've been nice to see more production on the offensive glass, but you can't fairly pin this one on the offense. The points were there. The point-prevention was not."
So, as it always goes, this game will come down to focus on defense and rebounding, and hopefully proper execution in crunch time. A win in Miami was within grasp if the Lakers. But
Kobe they played poorly down the stretch. That loss in Miami should keep the Lakers more focused tonight as they look to continue their great play.
The Mavs were built to compete with the Lakers and they probably have done the best job of it of all the Western Conference pretenders. They're for real folks, simply because they have the bigs and firepower to compete with the Lakers. Something the Spurs do not. That's something to take into account. Not only have the Mavs become a better team, but they've done so while making an effort to match-up with the Lakers. But I still have the feeling that when the Lakers are playing their best ball, it doesn't matter what any team does well. None of them can do them as well as the Lakers. Right now, the Lakers want to play their best, and they need this game. The Spurs might be out of reach, but the second seed is there for the taking. It starts with a win tonight.