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Five things to watch in Lakers-Mavericks matchup

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1. Expect a playoff atmosphere Thursday night.
For once, the Lakers are touting this as a big game. The Lakers (53-20) have only a half-game edge over Dallas for second place in the Western Conference and whichever team wins would also win the regular-season series, two games to one. A Lakers victory would widen their lead over Dallas to 1 1/2 games and at least keep them up to speed with San Antonio, which had lost five straight games to Boston before playing the Celtics on Thursday night.

By no means will this make or break either team's chances for home-court advantage, however, because the Lakers have eight games left in the regular season and the Mavericks nine. Even though a Dallas win would give the Mavericks a 2-1 regular-series edge over the Lakers, that doesn't automatically mean the Mavs would have home-court advantage if the two teams finished with the same record. That's because the Lakers have already clinched the Pacific Division and that's more important than head-to-head record. The Mavericks would have to surpass San Antonio and clinch the Southwest Division to win the  tiebreaker, and because the Spurs hold a four-game lead over Dallas that scenario isn't likely. But if it did it's safe to presume the Lakers and Dallas would then be competing for the first and second seeds.

Both teams enter this contest peaking at the right time. The Lakers have won seven consecutive games, have won nine in a row at Staples Center and are 15-1 since the All-Star break for various reasons, including Andrew Bynum's defensive resurgence, Ron Artest's improved shooting, Kobe Bryant's health with the exception of a sprained left ankle that kept him limited for three games and Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom's both putting together consistent performances. Meanwhile, the Mavericks boast a league-leading 27-10 road record, have won five consecutive games and have shown improvement in several statistical categories compared with their regular-season averages during that stretch, including team defense (85 points vs. 95.81), opponent's field-goal percentage (43% vs. 45%) and opponent's three-point field-goal percentage (24% vs. 34.7%). So much for Phil Jackson's belief that the Mavericks would be in trouble after Caron Butler suffered a season-ending knee injury in early January.

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2. Ron Artest shouldn't let Mark Cuban's comments get to him. Of course, we're going to pay attention to what Cuban said to reporters: “Anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest’s hands is always a good thing. And you can tell him that I’ll even take him out for ice cream. Of all the choices you have on that team, you want Ron Artest making the decisions in the triangle." We'll ask Artest Artest for a rebuttal, or at least if he'd take Cuban up on that ice cream offer. And we'll see if Jackson uses Cuban's quote as an avenue to defend Artest or maybe to throw another zinger at Cuban. But Artest shouldn't let that consume him. 

Even if Laker fans probably don't like when Cuban talks trash, he's right that in general terms Artest makes questionable decisions, takes mind-altering shots and can make any well-run fastbreak turn ugly. But Artest shouldn't allow Cuban to outline his fate. Since the All-Star break, Artest has exceeded his season average in points (10.35 vs. 8.4), shooting percentage (42.5% vs. 40.2%) and playing time (32.43 minutes vs. 29) in each contest. Artest has cited his improved conditioning and off-court training, while Bryant believes Artest has understood his role better by keeping things simple. Dallas guard Jason Kidd plans to match Artest, hoping that will bait him into taking shots outside the context of the offense. Artest made Phoenix pay both in the 2010 NBA playoffs and this season for their tendency to sag back, so he should take the same approach. But Artest feels he needs to prove something.

3. Kobe Bryant needs to continue elevating to playoff form. Bryant has posted numbers against Dallas dating to last season that would leave even his staunch supporters concerned. He has averaged only 17 points per game at a 40.8% shooting clip against Dallas since the the start of last season, his worst season average against any opponent. But don't consider that an indictment of what he's done against Dallas this season. The Lakers' 109-100 loss Jan. 19 to the Mavericks actually showed Bryant playing at an efficient rate (21 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 10 assists and four rebounds). But he statistically dropped in the Lakers' 96-91 victory March 12 against the Mavs when he scored 16 points on six-for-20 shooting. But that effort mostly points to his sprained left ankle, an injury he said proved to be the "scariest" among all the ankle sprains he's suffered in his 15-year career. 

Over the next three games he averaged 17.33 points and shot 39.3%. Since then, Bryant has gone on a three-game tear, averaging 36.33 points on 48% shooting. His scoring output was partly boosted by the Lakers' 139-137 triple-overtime effort last week against Phoenix, but his improved shooting percentage, elevation and conditioning points to better health and a conscious decision to crank up his intensity. Expect Bryant, who will be guarded mostly by Shawn Marion, to shift up a gear against Dallas.

4. Performances from Lamar Odom and Jason Terry shouldn't decide the NBA's sixth man of the year award. This is the inevitable story line because both players have posted impressive numbers off the bench and fulfilled significant roles. Odom remains third on the team in scoring average (14.4 points) and rebounding (8.8) this season. He is shooting 53.7%, easily a career high. Meanwhile, Terry, who won the award in 2009, has averaged 16.4 points, 4.2 assists and 1.1 steals, second on the Mavericks in all three categories. But their roles are entirely different, making it misleading to compare how each of them does in this matchup. 

"It's a totally different animal," Jackson said. "Jason is a critical moments player and plays well down the stretch with [Dirk] Nowitzki. They have a chemistry going and he's one of the keys to try to stop Dallas. It's the impact a player has on a team. Lamar has so many areas he's valuable -- assists and rebounds -- besides his scoring. Jason is valuable in his way, perhaps not in the same value in assists and rebounds. But it's hard to compare them, though."

The more important variable to measure involves how the teams' benches match up. No doubt, Odom and Terry will have a large part in determining that. Odom has proven to be the Lakers' most consistent player, while Terry's known as a Laker killer. He had 22 points on nine-of-15 shooting with seven assists in Dallas' victory in January, as well as other memorable performances, including a 30-point performance on 10 of 20 shooting last season and career-highs against the Lakers in three-point field goals (16 on March 15, 2009) and assists (16 on March 25, 2003). Holding Terry to 13 points on six-of-16 shooting in the Lakers' win March 12 surely proved instrumental. But so were Steve Blake's nine points and five assists, something The Times' Mike Bresnahan thought was his best game all season. Considering Dallas' depth, it's imperative the Lakers' bench holds its own.

5. The Lakers need to take advantage of their size. Dallas acquired 7-foot-0 Brendan Haywood and 7-1 Tyson Chandler with exacting intentions to match up with the Lakers' frontline in 7-footers Gasol and Bynum and the 6-10 Odom. The moves were at least good enough for 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. The Lakers are 3-0 when Bynum scores at least 19 points and 0-3 when he's held under that mark, meaning he needs to avoid foul trouble, something he couldn't do in the Lakers' win Sunday against New Orleans. Gasol scored 23 and 18 points, respectively, in both contests, but it's uncertain whether that can offset anything from Nowitzki, whom Jackson called "one of most prolific guys in the game."

-- Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers Andrew Bynum is pressured by Maveriks Drew Gooden, left, and Jason Terry at the Staples Center Jan. 3, 2010. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest goes in for a reverse dunk against center Chris Kaman and the Clippers in the first half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

 

 

 
Comments () | Archives (27)

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PLG: Tell me you didn't just talk about Carlisle's "perfect hair." Say it ain't so. Have you SEEN him recently? It looks like Cuban replaced Carlisle with Jim Carrey on the sidelines.

Tonight will be a great challenge for Bynum. He needs to play defense without fouling -- at least, no ticky-tack touch fouls. If you're gonna get the foul, make it count. Otherwise, use your long-ass arms to block and deflect shots. And go after every rebound.

As far as matching up with Dallas in the playoffs is concerned: Color me "not scared." I think they're mentally weak, and they have a losing culture. That won't change this season.

Go Lake Show!

Good interview with DWade today on the Stephen A. Smith show...talking about the Celtics, Knicks, Kobe impact on the Olympics team, possibility of beating the Lakers in the final. The biggest thing I took away from it other than Wade feeling underappreciated was him not taking a "championship or bust attitude", but instead saying very few teams win it their first year together. (Go all the way to the bottom to click on the link)


Listen to Dwyane Wade on ESPN New York/Los Angeles here (Interview starts at 1:00 into the podcast)

If Bynum plays good tonight, the Lakers win. Period.

I noticed that Artest was becoming a "clutch" player defensively AND offensively, especially at the end of the games. He has been making the crucial 3 pts shots and key defensive plays in recent games.

Very intriguing SFs' match ups between Artest and Marion, and Barnes and Stojakovic for tonight's game. Marion is probably the best SF rebounder in the NBA.

Also, I think Kobe will go off tonight to show who the "REAL" MVP is

hobbitmage-

well...i can read, so i've got that going for me.

i'm not a drinker, so the virtual beer will do...

Try this link for the interview....

http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/radio/archive?id=6124684

MM...help....I'm not sure what you meant by the statement below???

The Lakers are 3-0 when Bynum scores at least 19 points and 0-3 when he's held under that mark, meaning he needs to avoid foul trouble, something he couldn't do in the Lakers' win Sunday against New Orleans.

The Outlaw

Some things never change, right? The Mavs have been the Cavs West before. Great regular seasons and then a tank job in the playoffs. The Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop Two Headed Monster 2005-06 and 2006-07 averaged almost 1 blocked shot more per game than the overrated Tyson Chandler/Brendan Haywood duo those two seasons. Frankly, I don't see much of a difference between the center position. The Josh Howard from those days was a better player than their small forward position now, they still had a younger Jason Terry and also a productive Jerry Stackhouse, and where they now have the older Jason Kidd, they had the young, athletic Devin Harris. Those teams won 60 and 67 games, respectively. OK, the 2006 team SHOULD have won it all, but I maintain that both of those teams were better than this one. At least they were equally as soft.

a losing culture, that's it. i think that the cigar is toxic. he's arrogant (although he hasn't WON ANYTHING) does anybody know if they have banners hung up in dallas celebrating winning a division "championship". a big fish in a small pond. well, enough after all the opposite of love is indifference.

Hmmm....JKidd on Artest. Bring it on. Last game Ron beat him up in the post and on the boards.

MVP/Outlaw - in fairness to the Mavs they are missing Caron. He's an important piece to their puzzle from a skill and toughness standpoint.

In the analysis of playoff seedings above, while correct as written, what isn't discussed is that the Mavs can get the #2 seed by finishing with a better record than the Lakers. It doesn't matter if the Spurs hold onto the top spot and the Mavs end up 2nd in their division, if they end up with a better record than LA they get the 2nd seed.

But a win by the Lakers tonight means the Mavs would actually be 3 games behind the Lakers with just 7 left to play since the Lakers win the higher seed if they end up with identical records at the end as long as the Spurs keep the top spot.

Interesting stat:

The Lakers have won 20 consecutive home games when they score at least 97 points.

The Lakers have the "best" NBA player and coach for a decade and more, and they won 5 and 11 NBA championships, respectively. But, between them, they only won one MVP and COY each, which does not make sense at all. Now we are talking about Rose and Thibodeau winning the MVP and COY, who have not done anything. Wow! It's just weird.

"The Lakers have the "best" NBA player and coach for a decade and more, and they won 5 and 11 NBA championships, respectively. But, between them, they only won one MVP and COY each, which does not make sense at all. Now we are talking about Rose and Thibodeau winning the MVP and COY, who have not done anything. Wow! It's just weird.

Posted by: LakerPeace | March 31, 2011 at 04:04 PM "

Coach of the year is the weirdest award of them all. It is basically a most improved team award. Once your team is at the top, you're out of the running for it.

Mark,

Please proofread your articles before you post them. There's so many errors in this one I don't even know where to start.

Funny.

In writing the game preview of the Spurs/Celts game tonight, the writer evidently has the Lakers on his mind.

Look at his breakdown of the match up at PG.

=======

Game #75 Preview: Spurs vs. Celtics
by quincyscott on Mar 31, 2011

"Starters

PG: Parker needs to dominate Fisher. Rondo and Parker are very different kinds of point guards, both very effective. If Parker is healthy, this is a wash."

http://www.poundingtherock.com/2011/3/31/2082065/preview-75-spurs-vs-celtics?ref=yahoo

========

Huh?

Parker needs to dominate Fisher?

Good luck with that.

They worry about the Lakers even when they aren't playing the Lakers.

"MVP/Outlaw - in fairness to the Mavs they are missing Caron. He's an important piece to their puzzle from a skill and toughness standpoint.

Posted by: LRob | March 31, 2011 at 04:02 PM "

Good point, I have been hearing rumblings all season that he is determined to return for the playoffs but I don't know if it is realistic or if he'd be in any shape to contribute much even if he did get back on the court. The last note I heard said that he still wasn't close to practicing yet.

They've responded well in his absence but that was a big blow for the team when he went down.

LakerPeace,

I think the MVP and COY awards are based on regular season play only, and what happened in previous years really shouldn't be relevant.
Just about everyone expected the Lakers to be on top at the end so they haven't really exceeded expectations.
I think Thib and Rose are very good candidates for those awards.

WTH Lrob you have a former mvp canidate to back up Caron whats his name ...oh SHAWN MARION. yes it sucks to lose someone as good as Caron 15p 5r a game but no he isnt the reason the lakers will beat the mavs once again. gg though

@Art - 20 straight at home when over 97pts...wins the interesting stat of the day.

@j bird - I agree Lakers would beat Mavs with or without Caron, but him being injured means those minutes go to Peja, or Breweer, or even "the Janitor" Brian Cardinal. I'm sure you agree that Caron is a significant upgrade over any of them.

@LakerPeace. Not weird at all. No offense to the NBA (tho' I don't mind offending Stern...I don't work for the NBA so I can speak my mind... ) but all of the NBA awards (from the dunk-contest to the MVP/Finals MVP) have gone the way of the Oscars in that it's become a joke/popularity contest (and has been for quite some time). Kobe should've got MVP (if I'm getting my years right) in 2006. He was balling out of his mind that year and the only reason they made it to the playoffs was because of him. But they gave it to NAsh because at the time Kobe's Q rating wasn't good for the NBA, like being liked by a bunch of nobodies should have any bearing whatsoever on what he did on the court, which again, was better than anybody else's, bar none, that year and he was robbed and continually so. People love to say that Kobe isn't anything special without someone else yet what was Gasol doing before he came here to LA? Odom? DFish still hasn't won one w/out the Mamba. Shaq did (and notice it is only one, proving Buss made the right call). Phil has 11 championships but one CotY? C'mon. Dominique was hosed in the Dunk contest for Jordan back in the day and the list goes on and on. The only award that can't be swayed by perception is the 3pt shootout. Even Stern can't make the basketball go in.

Luck and intuition play the cards with Spades to start...And after he's been hooked I'll play the one that's on his heart...

I wanna roll with him a hard pair we will be...A little gambling is fun when you're with me...(I love it)

Finally...I'm home and getting into game mode...Huge game and it's implications...All I have to say is...

I'M ALL IN BAYBEE!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1hBPzPGrUA

I don't know about those five things. But during these last few games, I am getting the feeling that the Lakers can't lose, even despite themselves. I don't know... but I would bet on another Laker win.

wow! Kobe was reall good on ESPN and I LOVED the Lamar and Kobe interview by Melissa! It was hilarious and the players looked like they were having a great job too! I was expecting to see MM and got a nice surprise ;)

How can I get her job? ahahahah

Just read on twitter that Theo Ratliff is suiting up tonight

I hope to see much of Luke, Joe, and possibly Ratliff in the 4th quarter tonight.

Those teams won 60 and 67 games, respectively. OK, the 2006 team SHOULD have won it all, but I maintain that both of those teams were better than this one.

The only award that can't be swayed by perception is the 3pt shootout.


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