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Lakers 81, Mavericks 93: Night Falls On Los Angeles

Let's get something out of the way right up front: this series isn't over. The Los Angeles Lakers are, I assure you, capable of playing stupendous basketball. They haven't suddenly become untalented. They still have Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson and three supremely skilled big men. They don't panic. They know how to bounce back from difficult losses, and they know how to play on the road. If any team can recover from two nauseating home losses to start a playoff series, it's this one. Friday's a new day, and with it comes an opportunity to play like champions once again.

That said, there's no denying that the odds are stacked against them at this point. Tonight, as they did on Monday, the Dallas Mavericks made the Lakers look old, tired and confused. The Mavs' 93 to 81 victory in Game Two at Staples Center couldn't have been any more convincing. It was a game the Lakers badly needed to win, but not for a second did they appear to be the better or more desperate team. Dallas executed with precision at both ends of the floor, and their bench again thoroughly embarrassed the Lakers' reserves. As a team the Lakers shot three-pointers as horrendously as you'll ever see. Honestly, it's a wonder the margin of defeat was only 12. It felt so much bigger than that.

The Lakers' loss in Game One of the series had a slightly fluky feel to it. Not that the Mavs didn't deserve the win. They did. But there was a sense that the champs had let their foot off the pedal in the second half of that one, allowing the game to come down to a few possessions in the final minute that could've gone either way. A more focused approach and a handful of adjustments, our thinking went, and they'd be well positioned to even the series in Game Two. The to-do list read as follows:

1. Don't let Dirk Nowitzki go crazy again.
2. Get the ball inside more often to Andrew Bynum.
3. Get Pau Gasol going.
4. Make some threes.
5. Even out the gap in bench production.

Simple, right? Heh... sure. The Lakers somehow went a cool oh-for-five in these areas, and in some respects managed to regress from Game One. Let's take stock.

1. Dirk did whatever he wanted. The man is unstoppable right now. Gasol spent some time on him. Lamar Odom spent some time on him. Even Ron Artest got the assignment for a few possessions. Didn't matter. Dirk just kept knocking down that high-release fadeaway over anyone and everyone. He scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting and didn't commit a single turnover. If he'd been looking for his own shot even more aggressively, who knows how ugly things would've become.

2. Bynum still isn't getting the ball enough. Drew was great on those rare occasions he was allowed to touch the rock, scoring 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. But about half of those attempts came after his own offensive rebounds. For the most part, if he wasn't going after the ball off a missed shot, he wasn't part of the offense. On one occasion he hustled downcourt off a Mavericks miss, set up in the low blocks, sealed his man... and waited for a pass that never came. Kobe Bryant and Steve Blake both stared right at him, with an entry pass available, and kept it on the perimeter instead. It's genuinely stupefying that this team is still struggling with this 90 games into the season.

3. Pau sucked again. Gasol missed half of his free throws, more than half of his field-goal attempts and finished with just 13 points. He's getting dominated right now by Dallas defenders, whether it's Dirk, Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. The Pau who can humiliate defenders by stringing together quick, decisive post moves has totally disappeared.

4. OMG do the Lakers ever blow at three-point shooting. They've been getting away with this for years, not having a real three-point shooter on the roster. In the past, someone - Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Trevor Ariza - has always stepped up in the postseason to fill the role of clutch floor spacer. Right now, it's not happening. The Lakers shot 2 for 20 from long distance and didn't connect on a three until there were a few minutes left and the outcome was already in the bag. By the fourth quarter the Mavs were collapsing everyone into the paint, safe in the assumption that outside threats were nonexistent.

5. The bench was an utter catastrophe. Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes took ineptitude to an entirely new level tonight. They couldn't make shots, they couldn't stick with guys on defense, they constantly got lost trying to hedge and chase the Mavs' pick-and-roll sets. Blake was the worst, a toxic presence at both ends of the floor. It's baffling that Phil kept him on the court for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Jose Juan Barea dribbled circles around the Laker defense and demoralized the Staples Center crowd with eight points and a pair of assists in the fourth quarter.

What we're left with is the most precarious state of affairs the Lakers have encountered since Boston in June of '08. There are problems that need solving up and down the depth chart, but none is more important than fixing the offense. After averaging 1.10 points per possession following the All-Star break and 1.14 in the first round against the Hornets, they've scored a pathetic 0.99 points per trip in the first two games of this series. The solutions haven't changed: better play from Gasol, better three-point shooting and MOAR BYNUM. If those things don't materialize, it's very possible we just watched Phil Jackson coach his last game at Staples Center.

They have less than 48 hours to figure it out. Friday night, the Lakers play to keep their season alive.











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