Things to watch in Lakers-Mavericks matchup
1. Have the Lakers caught the Mavericks at the right time? This was supposed to be a portion of the schedule that would give a better indication of the team's current standing. But it could be a game where the Lakers catch better fortune than they otherwise could've experienced. It was just a month ago that the Mavericks appeared to be a West contender that the Lakers would have to monitor.
Now? Not so much.
The Mavericks (26-14) enter Wednesday's contest at 6 p.m. against the Lakers at American Airlines Arena Wednesday at 6 pm. with losing nine of their last 11 games, including a current six-game losing streak and have dropped from second to fifth place in the Western Conference. It was only a month ago that the Lakers would at least have to monitor their progress, but the only monitoring Coach Phil Jackson needed to do was believe Caron Butler's season-ending knee injury (ruptured patellar tendon) would prove devastating for Dallas, a contention that drew the ire of Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who fired back that Jackson was Jeanie Buss' "boy toy." Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki also missed nine games because of a sprained left knee, but his return has done little to change around the team. They still lost by double-digit margins to Memphis and Detroit. And to make matters worse, another star player in guard Jason Kidd hasn't fared well on the court during this whole malaise. In the Mavericks' nine recent losses, Kidd has shot 28-of-109 from the field (25.6%), which has heavily contributed to his career-low 33.% mark.
Butler's absence has also contributed to Dallas' defensive struggles, considering he held opponents to 36.3% shooting. After the Mavericks held teams to 100.1 points per 100 possessions and a 43.6% field-goal percentage en route to a 24-7 start, Dallas went through eight games in 2011 with a 2-6 mark partly because of a decrease mark in points allowed per 100 possessions (108.1) and field-goal percentage (47.2%)
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, whose team has a 5-5 mark this season against opponents with winning records, believes that could set up a trap for false comfort.
"It's a big game for Dallas because they've been struggling," said Bryant, whose Lakers have gone 10-10 in Dallas since 2000. "They're looking for one to kind of kick-start them. We all know how well they play us up there, so it should be good."
2. How will the Mavericks handle the Lakers' size? Bryant remarked "it's not splitting atoms" when asked if Dallas' acquired 7'0" Brendan Haywood and 7-1 Tyson Chandler with exacting intentions to match up with the Lakers' frontline in seven-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and a 6-10 versatile forward in Lamar Odom. The moves were at least good enough for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to proclaim his team has enough size and depth to beat the Lakers.
Assuming the Lakers stick to their game plan, that shouldn't be an issue. But that doesn't mean there won't be challenges. Gasol has noticeably gotten off to slow starts and has allowed adversity -- both mental and physical -- to prompt him to take shortcuts. That's a bad formula to follow when matching up with Nowitzki, whose jump shooting will force Gasol to leave the paint and point more responsibility on Bynum to clog the lane. But it's also a good formula considering Nowitzki isn't known for playing tough defense. Chandler's 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and defensive presence prompted Jackson to argue he should be an All-Star. And Shawn Marion's versatile skilset will force the Lakers to extend the floor even more.
Still, assuming Bynum doesn't get in foul trouble, Gasol overcomes any physical play and Odom remains his usual consistent self, the Lakers should prevail inside.
3. Kobe Bryant will have a break on defense. As noted above, Kidd hasn't been shooting the ball well lately and though he's known more as a set up man, Bryant won't have as large a task as he did in covering for Westbrook. Though the speedy Thunder guard scored 32 points, Bryant put on a valiant effort in ensuring a team effort in improving stops on screen-and-rolls in the second half and showed a proper dose of offensive aggressiveness to make himself dangerous on several fronts. He attacked the rim. He drained jumpers. And he facilitated the offense on a dime, firing crisply clean passes in mid-air to the open man at just the right moment.
With Bryant able to save energy from defense against the Mavericks, he'll likely do even more wonders offensively.
4. Jason Terry is a Lakers killer. The Mavericks' recent losing stretch has also coincided with Terry going on a cold shooting streak, as detailed by ESPN Dallas' Jeff Caplan. But as the article indicates Terry is very capable on also going through hot shooting streaks, including a 19-point fourth-quarter effort against Miami and averaging 17.5 points per contest during a five-game stretch. The Lakers are very well aware of Terry's hot shooting tendencies, most recently in last season's affair where Terry scored 30 points on 10 of 20 shooting. He also had career-highs against the Lakers in three-point field goals (16 on March 15, 2009) and assists (16 on March 25, 2003). It's likely Lakers guard Derek Fisher would match up with him, so it's important that the frontline also help in closing out and shutting off the baseline.
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Photo: Kobe Bryant drives against Dallas' Jason Kidd on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Bryant led the Lakers with 20 points but was nine-for-23 from the field in the 101-96 loss last season to the Mavericks. Credit: Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT.
Photo: Shannon Brown and Dallas guard Rodrigue Beaubois each try to get a hand on a rebound during the Lakers' 101-96 loss to the Mavericks on last season in Dallas. Credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press.