Five things to watch in Lakers-Mavericks matchup
1. Can the Lakers win on the road? If it sounds redundant, that's because it is. The Lakers have a 5-11 road record and have shown few signs of turning that record around. But perhaps that will change at Dallas. This marks the first time the Lakers have played there since the Mavericks eliminated them in a four-game sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers met informally following their 103-92 victory Monday over the Portland Trail Blazers to discuss putting away frustrations involving trade rumors, the coaching staff and other issues. L.A. showed the right energy level and ball movement against Portland, but that was at Staples Center and Dallas is a much better team. Wednesday night's game provides a huge signal whether the Lakers can play with the same purpose and execution on the road.
2. Dallas is a much different team than when the Lakers last played them. Don't use the Lakers' 73-70 victory Jan. 16 against the Mavs as a barometer. Back then, the Mavericks had an 8-5 record, Dirk Nowitzki was averaging only 17.7 points and Jason Kidd had back issues that had sidelined him for four games. Now, the Mavericks are 21-12 and have won eight of their last nine games. They rank fourth in scoring defense (90.7 points per game) and first in field-goal percentage allowed (.415) after finishing 10th and eighth respectively in those categories last season. In the last 10 games, Nowitzki has averaged 25.4 points on 49.5% shooting.
3.Gasol vs. Nowitzki is always crucial to watch. With Pau Gasol's confidence appearing to strengthen after Kobe Bryant publicly supported him, this will be a good test to see whether the Spaniard can sustain it. In the last outing, Gasol compensated for a poor offensive night (three of 11 clip) by limiting Nowitzki to 21 points on eight-for-21 shooting. Nowitzki is unlikely to drop off from his 29.3 points he's averaged in the past three games. Meanwhile, Gasol has only averaged 14.3 points on 40.5% shooting. Nowitzki relies more on his fall-away jumper, while Gasol settles more on his mid-range game.
4. Will Lamar Odom be more geared up against the Lakers? Even if Odom's 7.7 points on 35.7% shooting remains a career-low, Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle told reporters it's much more appropriate to evaluate Odom his performance on a per-36 minute basis. Consider his improvement from the first 15 games to the last 17 in points (7.8, 13.2), assists (.8, three) and turnovers (3.1, 1.9). Still, Odom's rebounding has actually dropped in that time frame from 8.6 to 7.5 per game. And even by evaluating Odom on a per-36 minute basis, it still lags behind his career averages of 14.8 points, nine rebounds, four assists and 2.6 turnovers per game. That could be different against the Lakers, since he'll have an extra reason to gear up against them.
5. How will Dallas guard Kobe Bryant? His 29 points on 44.3% shooting has remained mind numbing because of the Lakers' poorly run offense, his high level of minutes (38.2) and his torn ligament in his right wrist. But a combination of Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, double teams and a 2-3 zone contributed to Bryant's 14-point effort on seven-of-22 shooting against Dallas. This is hardly an anamoly. The Mavericks held Bryant to 23.5 points on 45.8% shooting in their four-game sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. That's why it's critical the Lakers have a strong supporting cast, Bryant willingly facilitates on double teams and the Lakers set Bryant up in good positions to shoot.
— Mark Medina
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Photo: Mavericks forward Lamar Odom, who was traded to Dallas in December, gives former Lakers teammate Pau Gasol a hug Jan. 16 at Staples Center. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / January 16, 2012