Lakers draw on 2011 playoff exit as motivation against Dallas
All the shuffling personnel and coaching changes trace back to one memorable moment seven months ago.
The Lakers lost in a four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, prompting more urgency in the team's front office to make roster changes. Phil Jackson's far-from-glorious last chapter in an otherwise storied career convinced ownership to move far away from his influence in hiring the next coach. And the Lakers were left stewing throughout a prolonged off-season, wondering where it all went wrong.
So of course, the Lakers (9-5) have attached extra importance to hosting the Dallas Mavericks (8-5) on Monday at Staples Center.
"I know everyone says it's just another regular-season game," Lakers forward Luke Walton said. "It is, but it's one of those regular-season games that will be a little more exciting. You want this a little more than most of the other ones."
Those included the Lakers' absorbing a heavy dose of drama to open training camp, after NBA Commissioner David Stern blocked a deal that would have sent Lamar Odom to New Orleans, Pau Gasol to Houston and Chris Paul to the Lakers.
Incredulous over the Lakers' trade attempt and apparent lack of communication, Odom requested a trade. The Lakers sent Odom and a second-round draft pick to the Dallas Mavericks for a $8.9-million trade exception and a first-round selection. They also lost Shannon Brown via free agency to the Phoenix Suns. And the team's replacements in Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy along with the remaining reserves have hardly done enough in absorbing those two losses, remaining last in the league in points per game.
And oh yeah, the Lakers have also faced adjustments with Brown's faster-paced offense, more attentive defense and shuffling rotations.
New personnel aside, the remaining Lakers still have some unfinished business against Dallas. That points mostly to forward Gasol, who averaged 13.1 points on 42.9% shooting and became the primary reason for two-time defending champions' falling.
"Personally, it's a game I want to play well," Gasol said, "and help my team to win."
Interstingly enough, Gasol wore a Nike T-shirt following Sunday's practice that read, "eat your enemy." Perhaps a message for Dallas, though its personnel also looks different. Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler are gone. An ever-aging Vince Carter, underperforming Brendan Haywood, an unreliable Odom and Delonte West fill those spots. Dirk Nowitzki doesn't have the same unstoppable touch on offense, averaging 17.7 points and 5.2 rebounds, his lowest numbers since since the 1999-2000 campaign. And 38-year-old point guard Jason Kidd recently had back issues that kept him sidelined for four games.
The Mavericks lost their first three games against marquee opponents in Miami, Denver and Oklahoma City. They faced double-digit losses to Minnesota and San Antonio. But they enter the Lakers game with a five-game winning streak.
"They're not the favorites to win it again," Gasol said of Dallas. "So they might go a little bit under the radar, especially with their slow start. But right now they're playing well, have great players on their team, championship players, and it'll be a tough matchup."
And it'll be one the Lakers will look at with added importance.
-- Mark Medina
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