The Mavericks find themselves in a vaguely familiar position after wrestling away two Western Conference semifinal games in the Staples Center. They’ve taken 2-0 series leads and blown them – most famously in the 2006 NBA Finals. They’ve been down 2-0 and come back to win. They’ve never been in exactly this spot – they’ve never won Games 1 & 2 on the road, and they’ve never even won a Game 1 against the Lakers – but the lessons learned in those series still apply. Dallas is in a strong position, but they’re facing a championship team with its back to the wall, and a slip in Game 3 puts the series right back in toss-up territory.
The Lakers left their locker room after Game 2 seemingly in disarray. The Mavs had come back to beat them in Game 1 on the strength of Dirk Nowitzki and clutch defense, so the Lakers knew what they needed to solve in Game 2 and were unable to figure things out. After the game, Andrew Bynum talked of deeply rooted trust issues and Phil Jackson had to answer questions about his crowd booing Pao Gasol.
Jackson said that LA was confident that their shooting touch would return and that he was more concerned about a defense that had struggled to deal with penetration from Dallas guards and that seemed to have no answer for Dirk Nowitzki. With the series on a day-on, day-off schedule and Thursday as a travel day, the Lakers haven’t had a lot of time to address their defensive issues.
They will try to eliminate easy penetration, just as they did in the first round after Chris Paul hurt them early. They hope to slow Nowitzki at the same time, and they won’t have Ron Artest as an defensive option in Game 3 after he was suspended for his shot to J.J. Barea late in Game 2. At the same time, they will look to improve on dreadful three-point shooting and to exploit their offensive mismatches.
Game 3 can be found on ESPN at 8:30 CDT. To discuss the game live with other Mavericks fans as you watch, check out Mavs Moneyball.