The only two powerhouses left in the West must meet for the first time in decades in what could prove to be the best series we’ve seen in years.
3. Dallas Mavericks vs. 2. Los Angeles Lakers
Surprisingly, these two teams haven’t met in the postseason since the 1988 Western Conference Finals. Sadly, we can’t use that series as a benchmark to judge this one seeing as Rolando Blackman and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are no longer playing.
In their last series, Phil Jackson chose to rotate in Lamar Odom for Pau Gasol instead of Andrew Bynum. This left two big bodies on the floor for the Lakers that gave the New Orleans Hornet’s big guys, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor, tons of problems. Okafor averaged 4.4 personal fouls a game in that series and collected five in the first three against the Lakers. This left Monty Williams with Landry and Aaron Gray to defend the post against arguably one of the strongest frontcourts in the league.
Odom, Bynum and Gasol attract just over 13 fouls a game and led the league in fewest fouls gathered a game. This diverse group of players allows the Lakers to better run an offense that essentially rotates off of mismatches.
It’s really going to come down to how Rick Carlisle decides to react to this powerful frontcourt. Tyson Chandler will come in to defend Bynum who had a great series against New Orleans. However, the problem that needs to be solved is how to shut down Odom when he comes into the game. Shawn Marion will be put out onto the court to try and shut him down but as far as bench players left to try and defend Odom, there really isn’t anyone since Brendan Haywood will be coming in for Chandler. There is always the option of leaving both Chandler and Haywood on the floor at a time but Tyson had a hard time staying out of foul trouble against Portland especially on the road. Carlisle may be forced to essentially allow Odom to run amuck on the court and chose to focus on defending other Lakers.
Next, they can’t forget about Kobe Bryant who may or may not have a messed up ankle. He finished that last game against the Hornets that clinched the series with 24 points so it’s hard to tell but he did experience his worst sprained ankle injury of his career against the Mavs earlier this season.
Carlisle made the perfect adjustment by choosing not to start Rodrigue Beauboise against Portland and instead opted for the defensive prowess of DeShawn Stevenson. In Dallas’ only win of the season against LA, they started Stevenson who held Bryant to only 21 points (pretty low for Kobe). The Black Mamba only took 18 shots that game (again, a low for Kobe) and Stevenson shot 0-5 from the field. It’s necessary to give up an offensive option by starting DeShawn to throw off Kobe’s game. However, how much should they give up since it’s apparent now that Caron Butler will not be available for this series.
For Dallas, it really comes down to the bench and guards. Jason Kidd is getting some much-needed rest for this series. He had some highs and lows against Portland and will be matched up against Derek Fisher so hopefully he will be able to capitalize. Also, by choosing to put in J.J. Barea at the end of game six against Portland, Carlisle showed that he is finally listening to the Beef by driving it to the paint. Yes, Jason Terry had a great season when in came down to the fourth quarter but he is cold and like any other jump shooter, he’s trying to shoot out of it. Sorry, but during the playoffs, that isn’t going to cut it.
This Mavericks’ bench is going to have to keep up the pace they held all season and continue to score. It was that bench that helped them bury the Blazers and now they will be going up against sixth man of the year, Odom. The key is for them to get the lead and for the starters to come back in during the fourth and hold it. Their jumpstart needs to hold since we saw the Mavs blow two fourth-quarter leads against Portland.
The Lakers are an agitating team. Byrant, Matt Barnes and Ron Artest are three of the most annoying players in the NBA and really know how to get under the competitions’ skin. The Zen Master really knows how to throw off another teams mindset and if he plays it right, he could draw some techs and easy free throw points in this series. We already saw Terry get pretty mad the last time these two teams met in February. If he isn’t shooting well, expect some frustration to surface.
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are very hungry. Losing those two games against the Hornets simply should not have happened. Chris Paul really took over and Dallas has no equivalent in their guard core. However, Dallas is even hungrier. They shook a giant monkey from their back and want to return to the Western Conference Finals and eventually to the Finals. Dirk Nowitzki and company know what’s at stake. If they keep their heads on straight and spread their defense accordingly, Dallas will take this series in seven. Period.