Oklahoma City and Lakers have similar problems with Mavericks
No matter who guarded him, how hard his opponent tried to shut off the driving lane and how quickly the defense switched, nothing stopped J.J. Barea from driving to the rack.
And no matter who guarded him, how his opponent closed out on the perimeter and how long his shots from three-point range became, nothing stopped Jason Terry from firing from downtown as if he had the NBA Jam's "fireball."
It sounds like I'm simply rehashing the Lakers' problems when they fell in a four-game sweep to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals. Yes and no. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom surely felt overwhelmed and frustrated with Nowitzki's penchant to hit off-balance jumpers. No one put a stop to Barea's quickness other than Bynum's late cheap shot in Game 4 that earned him an ejection. And the Lakers' defense rarely closed out on Terry from three-point range. But the Thunder experienced the same problems in its 121-112 Game 1 loss Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks as the Lakers did in all four games against the Mavs.
Nowitzki's 48-point effort features a playoff-record 24 consecutive free throws, making 10 of his first 11 shots and pulled off his acrobatic shooting despite six different players guarding him. Barea breezed past defenders with ease with a quick crossover and first step en route to 21 points. And the Mavericks' nine of 23 mark from three-point range may have paled in comparison to the 20 treys they made in Game 4, but it's clear that a 10-day layoff did nothing to quell their sharp shooting.
It's too speculative to think whether the Mavericks will hand the Thunder a four-game sweep. As poorly as the Lakers played, they could've taken Game 1 had Kobe Bryant made a game-winning three-pointer or the Lakers didn't unravel in the final two minutes. Likewise, Kevin Durant put up an impressive showing with 40 points on 10 of 18 shooting and the team appeared in high spirits even when they went through a 6:28 second-quarter stretch without scoring. It's too presumptuous whether Russell Westbrook's three-of-15 showing will make him the second version of Gasol's disappearing act. He very well may have had just a bad shooting night. And it's too early to believe the Thunder won't make adjustments in Game 2.
But with all the offseason handwringing over the Lakers' disappointing playoff exit, one thing they should continuously remember is they lost to a legitimate opponent. Respecting their opponent had long been a problem for the Lakers, which remained consumed with their own play, almost to a fault. As likely as it is the Lakers would've beat Dallas had Gasol played like his normal self, Bryant closed out games better and the supporting cast didn't prove so unreliable, the Lakers' psyche rarely considered, or at least acknowledged, the reality that other teams kept improving. In addition to their overall boredom with the regular season and heavy basketball mileage, their mindset that they remained invincible so long as they tried contributed to their downfall.
"We got cocky and played cat and mouse with the rest of the league," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "They were gunning for us and we took it on the chin pretty good. We just couldn't recover. You have to tip your hat off to Dallas."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Dallas center Dirk Nowitzki, left, fights for position with Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka during the fourth quarter of the Mavericks' 121-112 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday. Credit: Jerome Miron / U.S. Presswire / May 17, 2011.