2nd seed Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) 3rd seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25)
After enduring a 23 point comeback by the Portland Trail Blazers in game four, the Mavericks came back to close out Blazers by winning game five and proceeded to conquer their road demons by clinching the emphatic series win in Portland. Their reward? A date with the two time defending champions Los Angeles Lakers. As Ric Flair would say, "to be the man, you got to beat the man." Easier said than done.
|Team||OffEff||Fg%||3pt%||TS%||Points in paint|
Despite the advantage the Mavericks hold across the board in the shooting categories, the Lakers still hold an ever so slight advantage in offensive efficiency. This is due in large part to the great discrepancy in the points scored in the paint. This was a problem in the series against the Blazers and the front line of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood will be put under the microscope once more trying to contain Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
|Team||DefEff||FG%||3pt%||Points allowed||Points allowed in paint|
The defensive ability of both teams are relatively equal. The Lakers' length inside is once again a factor here. Bynum, Gasol and Odom help limit the oppositions' points in the paint. Additionally, the wing defenders they can throw out there in Bryant, Artest and Barnes will bother the Mavericks' perimeter players. Marion, Stevenson and Brewer will do the same to the Lakers' pereimeter players.
Point Guard- Derek Fisher vs Jason Kidd
Once again, Jason Kidd will not have to deal with the athleticism and quickness of the top point guards in the West and that bodes well for the Mavericks. Kidd got the best of Fisher in their matchups in the regular season and he should do the same in this series Fisher was a virtual non-factor in the teams' three meetings this season averaging five points and one assist. He's still a threat from three but, Kidd will make him work on the defensive end by posting him up and that might be enough to take his legs out from under him on the offensive end. Kidd averaged 10.7 points and eight assists against the Lakers this season and should be able to match that production in this series.
Shooting Guard- Kobe Bryant vs Deshawn Stevenson
Bryant will obviously be the center of attention for the Mavericks in this series. But surprisingly, the Mavericks have done a good job defending him this season. Bryant was "limited" to 21.7 points, five rebounds and six assists in their matchups this season. Still productive, but nothing reminiscent of the 62 point performance he demolished the Mavericks with a few seasons ago. The transformation is in large part due to the performances of Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd.
Deshawn Stevenson will get the first crack at Bryant and while he didn't get much playing time against the Lakers this season, he was able to contain Bryant in their only matchup last season. Stevenson limited Bryant to 20 points on 9/23 shooting last February. Of course, there is a huge difference between the regular season and the post-season and despite being hobbled by an ankle injury, Bryant is still the best player on the floor in this series.
Small Forward- Ron Artest vs Shawn Marion
Artest was limited 10.3 points and five rebounds against the Mavericks this season, but it's his defense that will be a major concern in this series. Artest is the Lakers' defensive stopper and while he will likely start games against Marion, he will shift to Jason Kidd for periods of time and even Dirk Nowitzki. Versatility. He has it. He won't hurt you for any 20+ point games in this series but, he cannot be left open, especially from three. Artest shot 50% from the three point line against the Mavericks this season and keeping him contained from beyond the arc will be a concern for the Mavericks.
The key for the Mavericks in this series will be the play of Marion. Marion averaged 18.7 points and seven rebounds against the Lakers this season. If he comes anywhere close to that type of production, the Mavericks will be in good shape. But just like Artest, Marion's vital contribution in this series will be on defense. The Mavericks have deployed Kidd on Artest in previous games and they will likely continue to do that in this series. That leaves Marion on Kobe Bryant. A mammoth task but as previously stated, one in which he has done well against this season. If he is able to limit Bryant, this series is up for grabs.
Power Forward- Pau Gasol vs Dirk Nowitzki
Gasol averaged 20.3 points and six rebounds against the Mavericks this season. Along with Bynum, he forms the biggest mismatch against the Mavericks in the post. Gasol possesses a variety of post moves and can step out and hit the occasional jump shot. The Lakers will be relying on him to limit Nowitzki's offensively. Gasol is a nice post defender but if he is relied on to step out on perimeter to defend Nowitzki, the Mavericks will be licking their chops.
Despite the matchup problems the Lakers present in this series, the Mavericks still possess a trump card. And that trump card is Dirk. The Lakers will make him work but, the matchup problems Dirk provides offensively makes him a nightmare to defend. Dirk only averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers this season but he has torched the Lakers in the past and the Mavericks will need him to play at the MVP level he's very capable of doing in order to win this series.
Center- Andrew Bynum vs Tyson Chandler.
Bynum's play will be the key to this series for the Lakers. If he plays anywhere close to the way he played the Mavericks this season, the Lakers should have no problem advancing to the Western finals. Bynum averaged 16.7 points and 12 rebounds against the Mavs and he did this while shooting a staggering 70% from the field. That's insane. But as the great Bob Oretgel would say, he can do that. And if he does, it will be a short series for the Mavericks.
Guarding Bynum is the primary reason the Mavericks traded for Chandler in the off-season and he will need to perform better than he did in the teams' regular season meeting in order to do that. Chandler averaged 5.7 points and nine rebounds against the Lakers this season. Not great by any means but, serviceable. This series will be all about his ability to contain Bynum's production on offense. In order to that, he needs to say out of foul trouble. This series will be determined in the paint and in essence by the play of Chandler.
The Los Angeles Lakers may have the sixth man of the year but it's the Dallas Mavericks who still possess the best bench in the league. Jason Terry elevated his play in the Blazers' season and that will need to continue against the Lakers. Additionally, Brendan Haywood will play a massive role in determining the outcome of this series from a Mavericks perspective. And finally, the offensive spark provided by J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic or Rodrigue Beaubois will be crucial for the Mavericks in this series. The Lakers bench features Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown. Other than Odom, most of the production from the Lakers' bench will be on defense.
The Lakers were pushed to six games by the Hornets and have looked vulnerable at times this season. Kobe Bryant is still bothered by an ankle injury and Gasol is coming off a lackluster series against the Hornets. It seems like the perfect opportunity for the Mavericks to finally break through and get back to the Western finals. But I keep coming back to the Lakers' length. The Mavericks acquired Chandler in order to deal with the Lakers' size but, unfortunately I still think their interior play is lacking. And if they're not going to defend the paint, they're not going to win this series.
Lakers in 6.