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Lakers vs. Mavericks Game 2 Preview: Success Is Only Impressive In Its Repetition

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A young stockbroker enters a bar, brimming with energy.  He goes up to the bartender, and shouts "Drinks for everyone, on me!"

An older gentleman, nursing a whiskey sour, asks him "What's the occasion?" 

"I'm celebrating my first big sale", the young man exclaims, launching into a detailed explanation of how he heard of a start up, did a bunch of research into the company, sold his boss on the tip and watched the stock take off.  "We're going to make millions", he finishes.

The old man, having listened intently tells him, "That's great, kid.  Now do it again."

OK, so I may or may not have made that story up, but doesn't it sound like something that should exist?  The lesson is certainly one that needs learning.  Here's a much truer version:  I played golf for the first time three years ago.  A couple friends wanted to go play 9 holes at the local pitch and putt after work, and invited me to come along.  I'd never swung a (non-putter) golf club in my life.  It took me 10 shots just to make it to the first green.  Then, on the second hole, I hit the ball square off the tee, watched as it soared towards the green and rolled within a few feet of the hole.  I looked at my friends with a face of pure joy and excitement.  They both gave me a high five, but then the one who is the more accomplished golfer of the two said "Just to give you a heads up, it'll probably take you a year before you come close to hitting a shot that good again."  It's been three years, and I still haven't managed it.  Anybody can do something amazing.  Win the lottery, make a hole in one, buy an antique that ends up worth millions.  These things happen to people every day.  Even if you intend to do exactly what it is you end up doing, that is not what makes it impressive.  What makes any action impressive is the ability to repeat it. 

Somewhat lost amongst discussion of curious coaching, big lead losing, controversial officiating and end game failure, a hidden storyline from the first game in this best of seven series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks is that the Mavs, as a team, were the benefactors of a shooting performance that was well above average, and yet were barely able to defeat a Laker team that had a rough night out.  Such arguments are hackneyed, and usually biased rationalizations of a night gone wrong.  They discredit the factors that lead to good and bad performances, assuming all events start out from a baseline that doesn't exist.  All that said, the fact remains that Dallas succeeded in doing just about exactly what they wanted to do in Game 1 of this series, and yet barely eeked out a victory.  It was a great performance, both in what they were able to accomplish and how they were able to accomplish it, coming from way behind to steal a victory, but to paraphrase a semi-fictional character, "That's great Dallas.  Now do it again."

Make no mistake, there was nothing strange about how Dallas came out of Game 1 victorious.  The style they used to be successful is the same style they've used successfully for years.  It is an exact copy of the blueprint they need to follow in order to advance to the next round.  The strong outside shooting on display has been their staple throughout the Dirk Nowitzki era.  That Jason Terry, Peja Stojakavic and J.J. Barea all came off the bench to shoot at or above 50% isn't miraculous.  The Dallas roster is filled with great shooters and efficient offensive performers.   The only thing that jumps out of their box score as unlikely is Corey Brewer's 50% shooting and made three pointer, but the dude only had 5 points, so let's not exaggerate his impact too badly. 

No, what makes the Mavericks performance just slightly out of the ordinary requires a broader perspective.  It requires you to ask the question Which Maverick had a bad night?  Shawn Marion struggled a bit, going 5-13 from the field and pouring in just 4 boards.  Deshawn Stevenson was a non-entity, missing all three of his shots and playing just 10 minutes.  And that's it.  Everyone else performed at or above their normal standards.  There weren't any crazy hot hands, no game changing performances.  It was just a steady dose of above average performance across the roster.  Take a look at a comparison between their Game 1 shooting performance, and their season averages.

Dallas Mavericks Shooting % Comparison
  At rim     3-9 feet     10-15 feet     16-23 feet     Three    
Game 1 6 14 42.9 10 16 62.5 7 14 50.0 7 15 46.7 9 20 45.0
Season 13.5 20.2 66.8 4.2 10.4 40.4 3.7 8.7 42.5 8.1 17.9 45.3 7.9 21.6 36.6

The only area they struggled with is at rim production, an area the Lakers defend pretty well simply because they have so many giants in their employ (L.A. is 6th in the league at defending this area of the court).   Other than that, every area of the court saw a performance above average.  Except perhaps for the 3-9 feet area, none of these stats are ground-breaking or jaw-dropping.  However, when you consider that they achieved towards the top end of reasonable expectation in every available category, it becomes clear why they may not be able to duplicate their success.  If they are unable to do so, then they must take away from the Lakers what circumstance takes away from them to remain victorious.

That might prove a formidable challenge.  Turn the analysis done on Dallas towards the home team.  Which Lakers had a good game?  Kobe, certainly.  Lamar Odom was superb.  Derek Fisher did what Derek Fisher does in the playoffs.  And Pau Gasol's overall game certainly doesn't qualify for overly negative commentary, though he's certainly capable of more than he achieved. Behind those four guys, however, performance drops off like a rock.  Ron Artest who, despite not being a beacon of consistency has nonetheless been one of the most consistent Lakers in the postseason, went 1-8.  Andrew Bynum, MVP of the Lakers first round series, had a terrible outing, shooting 3-8, and picking up only 5 rebounds (including his first game without an offensive carom in roughly 5 months).   Members of the bench not named Lamar Odom?  5-13 shooting for 10 points.  Again, none of these guys did anything that was outlandishly surprising (save maybe Drew), but when you combine all the failures into one, it is out of the ordinary.  The Lakers were nearly as consistent in slightly underachieving as the Mavericks were in overachieving.

Bottom Line:  Dallas played well, and the Lakers poorly.  Dallas didn't give the Lakers their "best shot" to squeak out a small victory.  They can play better.  Dirk was great in game one, and dominant down the stretch, but he's certainly capable of better than 50% shooting.  If their outside shots remain as open as they were in Game One, they could shoot even better than they did.  The Lakers could play worse.  Pau Gasol's one good half is sadly one half more than we've gotten in many playoff contests this year.  Kobe Bryant can not be relied upon to shoot 50% on so many attempts.  The Lakers could send Dallas to the line more than just 11 times, or cough up the ball more like they did against New Orleans. 

However, in the end, the first game of this series was a hard fought, closely contested game that came down to the wire.  And, in analyzing what went right and wrong for both squads, we are left with the inevitable conclusion that the Lakers have far more room for improvement than their counterparts.  That doesn't mean it will happen, nor that Dallas stands no chance for victory tonight, or the series in general.  What it does mean is that the Mavs require a greater portion of the myriad of undetermined events to go their way in order to be successful.  They are in the unenviable position of needing to do more things right than the Lakers in order to be victorious.

Of course, the Mavs are also in the enviable position of needing to be victorious less often to achieve their goals, having already been successful once.  If they can do it again, three times more to be exact, I'll be impressed.  And devastated.

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