Five things to watch in Lakers-Mavericks matchup
1. Lamar Odom's return will spark an emotional night. So many conflicting sentiments surround his return. His former Lakers teammates look forward to seeing him but are disappointed that the team and Odom decided to part ways. Lakers fans surely miss Odom's on-court presence and persona but some believe he overreacted to the Lakers' first attempt to trade him. And Odom himself, admitted it's going to feel weird when he steps foot inside Staples Center.
Odom could continue his poor stretch of 6.8 points on 31% shooting, five rebounds and 1.4 assists in a career-low 20 minutes per game. Or this game could provide the spark Odom needs.
When will he get back in shape? When will he learn Dallas' system? Will Odom ever grasp and at least understands the Lakers' effort to trade him? And more importantly, will he find peace with the recent tumultuous events this summer, including the murder of his 24-year-old cousin and a death of a pedestrian that was struck by a car in which he sat in the passenger seat? Nobody knows for sure.
2. The Lakers will be highly motivated. The Lakers, particularly their front line, looked tired against the Clippers. Because of that, Lakers Coach Mike Brown limited Sunday's practice to a film session and drills with the reserves. But there's also another reason why the Lakers will show more energy tonight. They're still upset over the Mavericks' sweep of them in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals.
3. Expect Pau Gasol to have a big game. No one serves as a better poster child for the Lakers' 2011 playoff collapse than Gasol, who had averaged a tepid 13.1 points on 42.9% shooting. It's reactionary to argue that's the mark of his continued decline. But it's indisputable that his poor play largely contributed to the Lakers' playoff struggles.
"Personally, it's a game I want to play well," Gasol said, "and help my team to win."
Whether Gasol likes to admit it, such external motivations push him into playing more aggressively. He's had a mixed effort in that regard, adjusting well to Andrew Bynum's increased role by knocking down mid-range jumpers but lacking enough aggression to consistently find inside shots. Expect Gasol to adopt that mentality against Dallas.
4. The Lakers' bench hardly matches the Mavericks' reserves. Just like the Lakers experiences in last season's playoffs, their reserves can't match the depth that the Mavericks feature. The Lakers' bench has regressed without Odom and Shannon Brown, and has featured too many moving parts to develop a definitive identity.
That's resulted in the Lakers' bench averaging 21.3 points while ranking 26th overall in efficiency. Meanwhile, Dallas boasts the fifth-most efficient bench unit, though the team feels it's lacked consistency with Odom, an aging Vince Carter and an energetic Jason Terry.
5. The Lakers' backcourt meets a different challenge. On the bright side, Derek Fisher, Darius Morris and the team's frontline no longer have to worry about defending a quick Chris Paul in isolation and pick-and-roll sets. Even if the 39-year-old Jason Kidd has recently come off a back injury, he proved reliable in organizing the Mavericks' offense. Against Sacramento on Saturday, he provided six assists and six steals in 29 minutes.
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Photo: Lamar Odom will make his return to the Staples Center for the first time since being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in December. Credit: John G. Mabanglo / EPA
Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol says he wants to have a big game against Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011