March 8, 2011 was the last time the Lakers (19-13) were in Dallas, but they hardly need a reminder what happened that day. However, forgetting what transpired on the floor of the American Airlines Center last year will not serve this team in what they’ll try to accomplish tonight as they take on the defending champs Dallas Mavericks (21-12).
The Lakers are a ridiculous 5-11 on the road. And with 32 games already in the bag in this shortened season, it’s time to take that record more seriously if they want to succeed in the playoffs.
That’s probably one of the reasons why team captains Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher held a players-only meeting after the team defeated Portland at Staples Center last Monday. Sticking together amidst all of the drama facing the team is a message that needed to be given that’s actually been long overdue this season. After the kind of team-oriented on-court camaraderie they showed on both sides of the floor Monday night, it’s exciting to know that there’s tangible proof that the Lakers can still turn it around, and more importantly, still take winning above everything else.
Facing a team that defines playing for one another, the Lakers better not waste their time in showing what they did to the Trailblazers against the Mavericks tonight.
After dropping their first 3 games in February, the Mavs have won 7 of their last 8, including their last 4 at home. Nothing much has changed with Dallas. They still score and defend as a team. So it’s imperative for the Lakers to establish where they can severely do damage against this team — inside.
Andrew Bynum had a double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds against Dallas back in January. He’ll need to at least mirror that production tonight to give the Lakers the edge. Pau Gasol didn’t score much in that game (8 points) but his defense on Dirk Nowtizki was instrumental in beating the Mavericks, 73-70. Obviously, his “D” is vital for a win, but he’ll also need to punish Nowitzki offensively. If he does, the Lakers should not have much trouble going up 2-0 in this season series.
But Pau isn’t the only who needs to step up on offense. Kobe made 31.8% (7-22) of his shots against Dallas in their first meeting thanks in large to an aggressive team defense by the Mavs and solid man coverage of both Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. Expect that defense to be even more intense on the road. This is where team cohesion and execution on offense play a vital role for the Lakers tonight.
For the Lakers to win and to continue to forge their identity offensively, they will need Kobe to score as efficiently as possible. For that to happen, they will need to have good ball movement, active bodies on the floor, and of course, make their outside shots. If they do, Bryant, including Pau and Andrew, will have more room to operate and see less double-teams.
As long as the Lakers come out hungry and on the same page much like what they did against the Trailblazers, they should head over to Oklahoma City with a huge victory on the road.
Matchup of the Game
Pau Gasol vs. Dirk Nowitzki: Offense will probably not be a problem for either star in this game. But whoever plays better defense and gobble up more rebounds will dictate which team wins.
Keys for the Lakers
1. Mindset: If the Lakers worry more about what they need to do as a team than thinking about being on the road, they’ll attack better on offense and defend with more passion. Hopefully, that’s what will happen tonight.
2. Bench: It’s important for the second unit to come out with energy and purpose on both ends of the floor. That means that they have to take smart shots in order to get better shots and be scrappy on defense and around the boards, as well.
3. Energy: If the Lakers become the more reactionary team than the more ascertive team, they lose. Remember, the Mavs are trying to avenge their loss in L.A. and have no desire to give the Lakers the idea that last season’s outcome in the 2nd round was no fluke whether it’s true or not. So no doubt they’ll be prepared for this game.
@ Dallas Mavericks
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: KCAL, ESPN
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN