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Lakers vs. Mavericks Preview: The King has arrived

This version of LeBron James is exactly who the Lakers need in order to stay in contention this season. Can he keep it rolling against the Mavericks?

Orlando Magic v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It might be hard to believe, but the Lakers have actually been playing better as of late. OK, so maybe those two losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies still stung, but the purple and gold have won five out of their last seven games and have statistically improved on both sides of the floor.

A big reason for this is that LeBron James is finally looking like the best player in the world once again.

Fresh off nabbing last week’s Western Conference Player of the Week award, James has been averaging 29.8 points (second in the NBA), 8 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.6 steals in the past eight games. Most importantly, he has also set the tone for the team on both ends of the floor, consistently bringing the level of contagious energy that this team needs to make things work.

This is the team captain the Lakers need in order to stay in contention this season:

And on Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers will need this version of James to show up once again. Not because L.A. can’t defeat a Luka Doncic-less Mavs team without James, but because they desperately have to build momentum, and perhaps put the 10-game winning streak Anthony Davis says the team has to gun for within reach.

And with LeBron playing so well, now is the best time for the Lakers to collect those wins to stay afloat in the standings or perhaps even climb up a spot or two in the Western Conference.

Thankfully for the purple and gold, they’re meeting a Dallas team that has had its fair share of struggles this year. The Mavs are ranked 26th in the league in points per game (averaging 104.4 points) and are 24th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (33.1%) and 25th in rebounds per game (43.6). They’re a team that does not generate quality shots from their offense, and are a poor jump shooting team on the looks they do get.

But here’s the catch: The Mavs have actually been surviving without Doncic. So far this season, they’re currently -84 in 735 minutes with Doncic on the floor and are +82 in 518 minutes without him. They might not have a player than can shoulder Luka’s 25.6 points per game, but they’ve managed to keep up thanks to the reemergence of Kristaps Porziņģis, strong performances from role players like Trey Burke, Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., and their bench depth.

Moreover, Dallas is 3-0 when their bench scores more than 50 points so far this season. It seems they’ve been moving the ball quite well, even without Doncic and have welcomed contributions from different role players. So, in short, this game won’t be a walk in the park for the Lakers, and their improved defense (they now rank 11th in the league in defensive rating) will have to show up ready on Wednesday.

But aside from their defense, here’s two other ways the Lakers can notch their third victory in a row in Texas:

Another LeBron James masterclass

If the four-time champion plays the way he did against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, there’s a good chance that the Lakers will take control of this one. The Mavericks’ mediocre defense (they’re ranked 15th in the league) have nothing on James, especially with Doncic out.

Maybe former Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd (and old friend Jared Dudley) will strategize a smart defensive game plan for James, but this shouldn’t stop the superstar from dominating, especially if his teammates also show up on Wednesday.

L.A. has to win the 3-point battle

The Lakers’ shooters have to show up on Wednesday and outperform the Mavs as early as the first quarter. The last thing the purple and gold want is to let this team hang around and eventually take over late in the game (similar to what the Grizzlies did last week). It would be nice to see another repeat performance from last game, where the Lakers shot 46.4 from the 3-point area led by Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk and of course James.

The Lakers haven’t had a three-game winning streak since the start of November. They’ve obviously been up and down this season, but the recent play of James has provided a huge boost of optimism. The team as a whole has also shown improvement on both offense and defense, and have finally made adjustments to their rotations.

So while it’s hard to say that this should be another turning point of their season (given how many times they’ve burned us fans when we think they’ve fixed things), it’s fair to claim that the Lakers have certainly made progress. And hopefully they can continue to keep building from here and prove why they are contenders after all.

Notes and Updates

  • Trevor Ariza (right ankle injury recovery), Talen Horton-Tucker (health and safety protocols) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) are out on Wednesday. Ariza, however has already practiced with the South Bay Lakers along with Rajon Rondo and Kent Bazemore, another sign that the veteran’s return is imminent.
  • Anthony Davis, who has now missed two games in a row due to left knee soreness, is listed as questionable for Wednesday. Frank Vogel did mention that the team has conducted an ultrasound on Davis’ knee and found everything to be intact. The Brow’s status will be day-to-day moving forward.
  • Lastly, LeBron James (rectus abdominis strain) is probable and Chaundee Brown Jr. and Jay Huff will be with the South Bay Lakers.

The Lakers will tip-off against the Mavs earlier than usual at 4:30 p.m. PST. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, and locally broadcast on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.