Dallas' 2011 championship team featured many assets the Lakers lacked
Privately, Lakers forward Ron Artest believed the team would have no problem handling the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. Said Artest on ABC 7's "Sportszone": "I thought we were going to sweep them."
Publicly, Lakers forward Matt Barnes pointed to the Lakers' regular-season victories against Dallas and drew experience when he played with the 2007 Golden State Warriors team that knocked off the Mavericks as a No. 8 seed. Said Barnes a few days after drawing a one-game suspension for getting in a tussle with Mavericks reserve guard Jason Terry: "In Golden State, we showed how to beat Dallas [in the 2007 NBA playoffs.] You go in there and take it right to their chin and they back down. I don't see anything has changed since then, so hopefully we'll have a chance to see them again."
It turns out Artest, Barnes and the rest of the Lakers eat their words. As they soon discovered, these weren't the Dallas Mavericks that would fall short much like the way they did in falling in the first round three out of the past four seasons. In fact, the complete opposite happened. The Mavericks swept the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, proved their upset was legit with playoff victories against Oklahoma City and Miami and forced Artest and Barnes to change their stance on Dallas.
Said Artest: Dallas had a strong 12, which was amazing.
Tweeted Barnes: "Congrats to the mavs, you definitely earned that.."
In fact, there were several areas Dallas excelled in that the Lakers severely lacked, and we're not just talking about when the two matched up in the playoffs. We're talking about during Dallas' entire playoff run.
Time and time again, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki made fall-away jumpers even with hands in his face. Even if he had an initial rough shooting night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, that didn't stop him from taking over in the fourth quarter, a stretch where he'd average 10.3 points during the playoffs. And he averaged 27.7 points per game in the playoffs came against constant double teams and off balance shots.
The Lakers usually have that luxury in Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, but neither of them came through, particularly when the outcome mattered late in the game. Bryant's missed three-pointer that could've taken Game 1 of the Lakers-Mavericks series could've spurred the Lakers to build off that game, but it just raised concerns on whether he had much left in the tank this season.
The Blazers' 23-point comeback in Game 4 of the Portland-Dallas series led many to believe this was the beginning of another Mavericks playoff unraveling. Instead, it showed Dallas' quick ability to bounce back. The Mavericks recorded a league-tying six comeback efforts in the fourth quarter, including two against the Lakers and in Game 2 against Miami, where they overcame a 15-point deficit midway through the final period.
Usually, the Lakers stay on an even keel during tough times. But when the Lakers trailed 2-0 to Dallas, it was obvious they didn't have the same resiliency they once had. Lakers center Andrew Bynum shared the team had "trust issues" and their on-court behavior showed it. Lakers forward Pau Gasol appeared overwhelmed in every facet of the game. The Lakers continuously pointed fingers on missed defensive assignments. And Artest drew a one-game suspension for unnecessarily clotheslining Dallas guard J.J. Barea.
Normally, the Lakers enjoyed this advantage all too often with two seven-footers in Bynum and Gasol and versatile 6-10 swingman Lamar Odom. That's why when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban contended last offseason that Dallas has enough size and depth to beat the Lakers, I immediately scratched my head. Sure, the Mavericks acquired 7-1 Tyson Chandler, who was traded last off-season from Charlotte for Erick Dampier. Coach Rick Carlisle also expected Chandler's defense to appropriately complement 7-0 Brendan Haywood's offense. But to say that would be enough to counter the Lakers' size seemed to be a stretch.
But I stand corrected. Chandler finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, nearly averaged a double-double (10.1 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game) and proved a large part in the Mavericks holding teams to 92.5 points per game in the playoffs. Haywood may have struggled handling a reduced role in the regular season, but he helped protect the paint during the postseason until a hip injury sidelined him for most of the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, Gasol's 13.1 points on 42.9% shooting he averaged against the Mavericks proved the main factor in the Western Conference semifinals sweep. Bynum's career-best playoffs performance (14.4 points on 54.3% shooting, 9.6 rebounds and zero injuries) was offset with a dropoff in his defensive effort and his frustration with teammates and opponents named Barea. And Odom, who became a beacon of consistency in the regular season en route to the award for sixth man of the year, suddenly became unreliable in the postseason.
The Lakers thought they addressed these needs by signing veterans last off-season in Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, as well as re-signing Shannon Brown. But the bench outside of Odom provided very little. Because of how consistently efficient Barnes played before suffering a lateral meniscus tear in Jan. 7, I'm convinced a summer of rehab and conditioning will be enough for him to return to his form before the injury. But it still didn't help matters, what with Brown's inconsistent shooting and Steve Blake's tentativeness.
The Mavericks' bench told a different story. Jason Terry may have missed out on winning sixth man of the year, but he surely knew how to play in closeout games against the Lakers (32 points a and playoff record nine three-pointers on 10 attempts) and the Miami Heat (game-high 27 points). Barea proved fairly inconsistent in the playoffs, but he usually gave the teams, including the Lakers, fits on pick-and-rolls. And Peja Stojakovic's lack of athleticism may have led to a limited role in the Finals, but he spurred a comeback against the Lakers in Game 3 and poured in 21 points on seven of seven shooting in the sweep finale.
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Photo: Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA Finals MVP, reacts after making a three-pointer in the fourth quarter against the Heat in Game 6 on Sunday evening in Miami. Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
Photo: Heat forward Chris Bosh tries to cut off a drive by Nowitzki during Game 5 on Thursday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Credit: Ron Jenkins / McClatchy-Tribune
Photo: Dallas center Tyson Chandler tries to block a shot by Lakers forward Lamar Odom in the first half of the Western Conference semifinals Game 1 at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times