1. Be ready for the war of words: It's the calm before the storm with the Lakers enjoying a day off Friday while they travel from New Orleans back to Los Angeles. But once preparation begins Saturday for the Lakers-Mavericks Western Conference semifinals matchup, plenty of soundbites will probably be thrown each other's way. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban may want to save up room in their checking account for inevitable league-imposed fines when they criticize the referees, each other and the opposing team's players.
But that's not the only subplot that highlights Dallas' contentiousness with L.A. The Lakers are almost a month removed from their 110-82 victory March 31st where Mavericks guard Jason Terry pushed Steve Blake to the ground, prompting Blake to get in his face and Lakers forward Matt Barnes to intervene.
All in all, five players were ejected in that game, Terry accused Barnes of being "as soft as Charmin toilet paper," and Barnes released two T-shirts through his clothing line including one that reads, "Matt Barnes will kill you if Ron Artest doesn't first," joking that could offset the costs for his one-game, without-pay suspension. Yep, this should be a fun series, with Barnes saying this two days after the incident:
"In Golden State, we showed how to beat Dallas," said Barnes, referring to his role in helping the Warriors beat the Mavericks as an eighth seed in the first round of the 2007 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 have a chance to see them again."
2. The Lakers need to maintain their aggressiveness: The Mavericks have changed, however, since the Lakers last played them. Dallas' first-round matchup with Portland featured plenty of momentum swings, including Brandon Roy largely slashing Dallas 23-point lead in Game 4 and then surviving two close contests in Games 5 and 6. The Blazers may not have the same skill set as the Lakers, but the Mavericks overcame a huge psychological hurdle in advancing past the first round, a feat they had failed to do in three of the last four seasons entering the 2011 playoffs. The Mavericks have also improved their toughness, with the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko observing how Dallas went on a run following Chris Johnson's hard foul on DIrk Nowitzki. So the Lakers shouldn't exactly expect the Mavericks will fall over.
But with the Lakers showing an increased toughness of their own, they shouldn't hold anything back. In a span of one week, the Lakers went from being considered a soft team to a team that led Hornets Coach Monty Williams to complain about its hard fouls, including Kobe Bryant's flagrant foul type 1 on Emeka Okafor. The Lakers are never going to be an enforcer type team, but Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol showcased more grit in their Game 5 victory against New Orleans by going on the offense than simply playing reactive basketball. In the same way opponents test the Lakers on how they will respond to physical contact, the Lakers need to test the Mavericks on how they'll respond to theirs.