Monday, JANUARY 16, 2012
Dallas Mavericks VS LA Lakers
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There is no doubt that Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers still feel the sting from last year's playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
They were swept away quickly and the Mavs went on to win the NBA title, while Kobe's posse watched the Finals from home for the first time since 2007.
On Monday night, these two teams square off for the first time since that series. Both teams have experienced a plethora of changes from coaching staffs to roster additions and subtractions.
One-half game separates these two combatants in the standings, who are both on hot streaks after slow starts.
The Lakers have won five of their last six and the Mavs have won five in a row.
Can the Lakers avenge their loss from last season, or will the Mavs continue to show that they're the best in the West?
Here is a complete breakdown of Monday night's showdown, from positional matchups to game strategies and a final prediction.
Point Guard: Derek Fisher vs. Jason Kidd
There isn't much on the basketball court that these two veteran champions haven't seen.
That being said, Jason Kidd looks like he should've probably called it quits after he won his ring. His minutes are down, his points per game have been slashed almost in half, and he's only averaging 4.7 assists per game.
If the Mavs want to come close to repeating, Kidd needs to do a better job in facilitating the offense.
On the other side, Derek Fisher has been struggling, too. The Lakers lead the league in games played and the condensed schedule hasn't been friendly for Fisher, who has only scored 4.3 points per game.
However, he's done a better job in dishing passes. He's almost averaging five assists per game, which is solid for Fish.
Fisher's main problem has been stopping opposing point guards. We all saw Chris Paul go off for 33 points the other night against the Lakers. And while Kidd is nowhere near Paul's caliber, he was able to take advantage of Fisher's ineffectiveness on defense in last year's playoffs. He averaged 8.3 assists per game in the series.
Because of that precedent, the advantage at point guard goes to the Mavericks.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Delonte West
This is light years away from being a debate. The Los Angeles Lakers have the obvious advantage here with Kobe Bryant.
Bryant has lit up opponents in four consecutive games, scoring 40 or more points in each of those games. It doesn't seem like his wrist his bothering him at all. His shooting percentage has been above 45 percent in every game since his 6-of-28 debacle.
The only problem with Kobe can come when he tries to do too much in close games. He almost always tries to take over the game and it can be costly for the Lakers. He hit a brick on a potential game winning shot against the Utah Jazz recently, for instance.
Other than that, Kobe is going to be the reason the Lakers win or lose this game.
As for Delonte West, he may be getting the starting nods, but it's Jason Terry that gets most of the minutes. West has been averaging almost two steals per game and should have his hands full guarding Kobe.
More on Terry in the bench section.
Small Forward: Shawn Marion vs. Matt Barnes
Both Shawn Marion and Matt Barnes are physical players who will be in a trench battle with each other. Their jobs are going to contain the other team's offensive threats.
Marion splits plenty of time with Lamar Odom and Barnes is spelled by Devin Ebanks at times.
Despite Marion's experience, Barnes' athleticism and youth will be a bigger factor in a physical match, so the edge goes to the man with a million tattoos, Matt Barnes.
- Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol
Last year, the advantage would've gone to Dirk Nowitzki in this elite European showdown.
But it's pretty obvious that Nowitzki is suffering from a major championship hangover. He's averaging almost six points less than last season, his rebounds are down and his shooting percentage has also declined.
Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is going to be playing at home and the last time he saw Dirk in an NBA game, he was playing the worst stretch of basketball in his career.
This is no doubt in Gasol's memory and if there's a player that would love to have a huge night in this game, it's Pau.
Gasol has been logging major minutes this season and he's averaging 16.4 points per game. He's also hit double figures in rebounds in each of the last six games.
This shows that he has the potential to have a big night. The embarrassment from last year's sweep, along with the home crowd will undoubtedly catalyze Gasol into having a huge night.
Center: Brendan Haywood vs. Andrew Bynum
This is perhaps the biggest change in the positional matchups from last year's series. The Lakers no longer have to deal with Tyson Chandler.
They have the clear advantage at center with Andrew Bynum.
That being said, Bynum has struggled a bit in the last few games. Offensively he hasn't had good shooting nights, despite still being able to swallow up rebounds.
If the Lakers want to win this game, they can't just give it to Kobe and expect him to drop 40. They need to utilize the whole team effectively and this means getting the ball to Andrew and having him work the paint.
Brendan Haywood is a tad smaller than Bynum and this is a clear mismatch. Haywood does not have the offensive capabilities that Bynum has, which means Bynum can focus more on Dirk when he comes inside the paint.
One significant player is going to make an emotional return to Staples Center on Monday night. That's Lamar Odom. He won two championships for the Lakers before being shipped to Dallas.
Seems like Odom is homesick. He's only averaging 6.8 points per game and five rebounds. His field goal percentage is atrocious at just 31.2 percent.
One of Odom's main flaws throughout his career has been that he is inconsistent and he doesn't seem to be focused all the time. Monday's going to be different, though. If Odom doesn't get up for his homecoming, then he doesn't have a pulse.
Odom will be ready and he's going to be a major factor.
Vince Carter and Jason Terry round out the key Mavs bench players. These are all experienced guys who have been through many battles throughout their careers.
The condensed schedule may be a disadvantage for them, but in a big game like this against the Lakers, they'll be up. This isn't the fourth game of the season against Minnesota. It's a huge night at Staples Center.
If the Mavs want to win, they simply have to take advantage of their bench advantage.
The Lakers are missing Steve Blake and have often used young, inexperienced guys like Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock and Devin Ebanks.
The Lakers must rely on hard-working Josh McRoberts, who has done a fantastic job in replacing Odom. Unlike Lamar, he works hard every night, despite not being as athletic as Odom.
Troy Murphy and Metta World Peace have been inconsistent, and they need to realize the magnitude of this game and play hard, too.
At the end of the day, we know that Odom is going to step up. Whether the Lakers bench steps up or not is going to be a question. The edge goes to the experienced Mavs bench.
Prediction and MVP
This game features one player at each team that is absolutely going to be hyped up. Pau Gasol will try to avenge his poor play in last year's playoffs and Lamar Odom will be pumped about his return to L.A. Expect great games from both of those players.
That being said, the Lakers will win this game if they can get a quick jump on the Mavs early. The Mavericks starting five is old and battered featuring guys like Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood.
The Lakers starting five has a huge advantage over the Mavericks starting five. The Lakers need to get ahead early and play solid team defense when Jason Terry and a motivated Lamar Odom enter the game.
When the Lakers starters are on the floor, they'll have a major advantage up front with Bynum and Gasol and a hot Kobe will burn whoever tries to guard or contain him. He's unstoppable right now and there is no reason why he's going to slow down anytime soon, especially in a revenge type of situation.
The Lakers will be led by a strong night by Pau Gasol and take the game by double digits.