Lakers - Mavericks Playoff Preview

Phil Jackson’s message on the white board of L.A.’s visiting locker room in New Orleans after the team’s dominant 98-80 Game 6 victory wasn’t full of superlatives for the team’s ninth straight playoff series victory, but rather a reminder of what’s yet to be accomplished:

12 mo’.

(We’ll take the liberty of interpreting “mo’” as “more.” More wins, that is, in case you needed further interpretation … OK, you didn’t).

W’s numbers 5, 6, 7, and 8 en route to the ultimate goal of a three-peat will have to come against a team that the Lakers somehow haven’t faced in the playoffs in the Phil/Kobe Bryant era (try 1988!), despite the Dallas Mavericks winning 50 games with even more regularity than L.A. this past decade.

Third-seeded Dallas won its Game 6 on an opponent’s court about two hours after L.A. did the same, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers as Kobe Bryant iced his ankle, the Lakers’ team plane flying somewhere over Texas. While Dallas is a better all-around team than New Orleans, they lack a couple areas that gave the Lakers problems in Round 1: the dynamic play of a point guard wreaking havoc in the paint (hello, Chris Paul) and the kind of quicker, more physical bigs like Carl Landry that annoy Pau Gasol.

That’s not to say anything’s guaranteed for the Lakers, who have respect for Dallas and particularly for All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, lead among several Mavs’ scoring options. The respect goes both ways, as with an eye towards L.A.’s length, the Mavs did their best to solidify a front line featuring Dirk with the offseason acquisition of Tyson Chandler, and a late 2010 trade involving Brendan Haywood.

“They are big and Nowitzki is a seven-footer and so is their center, Tyson Chandler,” said Phil Jackson. “Obviously, (Brendan) Heywood is a seven-footer. So they have size, but (the Lakers) have proven their dominance by their size. This is the reason why we are champions.”

In other words, while what Chandler and Haywood have in size may match up on paper with Andrew Bynum (often dominant in Round 1), Gasol and Lamar Odom, there remains a gulf from a skill set standpoint, as neither Mavs big is asked for much on offense. That responsibility still starts with the German who’s vied for European Player of the Year trophies with L.A.’s Spaniard (Gasol has won the last three, Dirk from 2002-06), and carries over to Odom’s runner up for Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry, all under the strings of puppet master Jason Kidd.

It was Dallas, not the Lakers, who (along with San Antonio) raced to the top of the Western standings earlier in the season. But it was L.A. who twice exerted its power on Dallas after the All-Star break, including a 110-82 beating at STAPLES Center on March 31. That game proved paramount in the standings, as the teams both finished with the same number of wins (57), but the Lakers earned home court advantage in the coming series with the tiebreaker of winning their Pacific Division (San Antonio bested Dallas in the Southwest).

As such, Game 1 starts on Monday in Los Angeles, giving us: Kobe vs. Dirk (finally); Phil vs. Mark Cuban (key for those of us who enjoy consuming mostly benevolent trash talking); Bynum vs. Chandler (the Mavs’ defensive stalwart who nonetheless struggles with Bynum’ sheer size); L.A.’s bench vs. a Mavs’ crew that likens itself as the league’s best (with which Odom will take issue); Terry against Steve Blake and Matt Barnes (neither of whom has forgotten about Terry’s late-game shove of Blake and the resulting 1-game suspension of Barnes).

And so on.

Three days, and we get to watch how it all plays out.

ABOUT THE MAVS

  • Before breaking through with a big 103-96 win at Portland in Game 6, Dallas struggled to score on the road, averaging 94.3 ppg at home and 87.0 ppg on the road.
  • However, Dallas tied Miami for the league’s best regular season road record at 28-13 (.683). The Lakers would have overtaken that mark had they not lost at Golden State and Portland in the final week of the season.
  • Dirk Nowitzki ranks 25th on the all-time playoff scoring list (2,796), which is extremely impressive unless you’re comparing him to Kobe Bryant (5,187), who’s up to third and should surpass Shaquille O’Neal (5,248) in this series.
  • Dirk also matched a Michael Jordan playoff record by making 13-of-13 fourth quarter free throws in Game 1 of Dallas’ Round 1 series.
  • This is the 11th consecutive playoff appearance for the Mavs, and 17th overall, the second-longest streak in the NBA (San Antonio, 14). However, the Mavs have made only three trips to the Western Finals, and one to the NBA Finals (2006).
  • Jason Kidd’s 2,001 playoff assists rank third in NBA history behind, you guessed it, John Stockton (1,839) and Magic Johnson (2,346).
  • Of the 118 players to score 15,000 career NBA points, the Mavs have four: Dirk (22,792), Kidd (16,772), Jason Terry (15,537) and Shawn Marion (15,151).