With only 8 games left in the regular season, the Lakers (38-36) are facing a win-or-die situation in their playoff hopes every single game. Tonight is definitely no exception.
The Dallas Mavericks (36-37) are sitting just a game-and-a-half back of the purple and gold for the 8th seed. A victory tonight will inch them within a half-game, but the consequences would be a very tough one to take for the Lakers since a loss would put the 8th spot a full game farther out of reach.
For Dallas, tonight's matchup at Staples Center is their first of 4 games of a very tough schedule that will conclude in Portland. For L.A., only their game against the Hornets at home next Tuesday is the only one that can be labeled remotely close to an easy win in their next 4-game stretch, which happens to also end at the Rose Garden against the Trailblazers — where they have lost 8 of their last 10 tries.
No doubt tonight is a HUGE game for either team.
And to add a bit of drama for the Lakers, Shaquille O'Neal's jersey will be retired at halftime.
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Laker fans are hoping that by seeing the ceremony, Dwight Howard will be inspired to dominate this game, and more importantly, have a better grasp of how special of an opportunity it is, especially for a center, to play for this storied franchise and re-sign this coming summer.
But all that aside, the Lakers better take the Mavericks very seriously and come out to win this game.
In the month of March, the Mavs have won 11 of their 16 games — including wins against the Rockets, Nets, Celtics, Clippers and recently, the Bulls.
The Lakers do lead the series 2-1, but they have yet to defeat Dallas at Staples Center this season. In fact, the Mavs have yet to win against the Lakers in Los Angeles more than once in a year since the 1983-84 season. Hopefully, that streak does not end tonight.
Both teams are very close in nearly every major team statistics. But if the Lakers are to win tonight, they can't let anyone not named Dirk Nowitzki have a field day on offense, as well.
In the 99-91 loss on opening night, 6 Mavs scored in double digits. Nowitzki was out in that game, but the Lakers allowed Brendan Wright have 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting and 11 points from Shawn Marion, who generally gets his points out of garbage plays and putbacks.
The Lakers have a long history this season of allowing even 2nd-tier role players perform like stars on offense. That can't happen tonight.
With 7 of their last 8 games held at Staples Center, the onus of winning tonight and the rest of the way falls on the Lakers' shoulders even more. Considering how the team basically gave the 8th spot back to Utah, this is a favorable pressure for the Lakers — but only if the Lakers make it favorable.
Tonight is the 4th and final meeting in the regular season between these teams with the Lakers looking to win the season series, 3-1.
Matchup of the Game
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol: This is the first time these 2 players are facing each other this season. While his point production a very welcomed proposition tonight, it's Pau's defense on Dirk that can throw this matchup heavily on the Lakers' side. Gasol may not play a lot of minutes. But if he comes out aggressive on both ends of the floor, that could be a start of a lot of positive things for the Lakers tonight.
Keys to the Game
> Contain Dirk: It's next to impossible stopping Nowitzki from scoring out of that off-balanced, turn-around jumper. But what the Lakers could do is force him to spin towards his shooting shoulder so it's not as easy leveling himself to shoot his jumper and make him into a playmaker by doubling him as soon as he gets the ball from the post, especially if he's being defended by either Earl Clark or Antawn Jamison. But don't be surprised if Dwight sees time guarding him.
> Dwight Howard: As I alluded to in the previous post, Howard is going to be a major factor in how the Lakers are going to finish the regular season in a positive way. Part of that is his maturation into taking it upon himself to continue to dominate every game in the post. If he does that again tonight, Dallas is going to be left with a ton of pressure in having their role players help win this game from the perimeter while trying to stop Dwight inside.
> Consistency: If the Lakers had been consistently focused and energetic all season long, it won't matter if they're still averaging 14.7 turnovers per game right now. Their overall game and record would be a lot better heading to tonight's game and this matchup wouldn't have come as a must-win affair. Then again, a lot of Laker fans thought that this team was going to be one of the top 3 teams competing for the title at this point in the season. Can't wish for everything, I guess.
vs. Dallas Mavericks
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TNT (National)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
DALLAS: Rodrigue Beaubois (wrist) is out.
LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) and Metta World Peace (knee) are out. Steve Nash (hamstring) is doubtful.