Los Angeles Versus Dallas PreviewWestern Conference Second Round
#2 L.A. Lakers (57-25) vs. #3 Dallas (57-25)
Season series: L.A. Lakers, 2-1
Dallas can win if…the Mavericks are able to contain Kobe Bryant without devoting so much defensive attention to him that Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and the other Lakers get high percentage scoring opportunities. The Mavericks also need strong scoring performances from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.
L.A. will win because…Kobe Bryant has a history of torching the Mavericks and because the Mavericks will have trouble dealing with the Lakers' frontcourt. Paradoxically, this matchup against a third seeded, 57 win Dallas team may actually be easier for the Lakers than the first round battle versus the seventh seeded, 46 win Hornets turned out to be; the Hornets have some undersized but feisty frontcourt players who knocked Gasol around but Gasol should be able to find a comfort zone in a skill versus skill matchup with Nowitzki because neither of those players is very physical. The Lakers will probably rotate various defenders on Nowitzki to wear him down, starting with Gasol but also using Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and probably Matt Barnes as well.
While the Lakers can throw a lot of different looks at Nowitzki, the Mavericks are more limited regarding their defensive options versus Gasol; they cannot afford to put Tyson Chandler on Gasol because then Bynum would have a serious advantage in the post versus Nowitzki--unless the Mavericks play Chandler and Brendan Haywood at the same time, but that makes the Mavericks slower and less athletic by removing a wing player (either Shawn Marion or DeShawn Stevenson) from the lineup.
The Lakers' biggest weakness defensively is trying to contain quick guards in screen/roll situations, so Jason Kidd will be an easier matchup (at this advanced stage of his Hall of Fame career) for Derek Fisher than Chris Paul was last round; the Lakers may also put Bryant on Kidd while having Fisher chase around three point shooter Stevenson. J.J. Barea could give the Lakers' second unit some problems with his combination of quickness driving to the hoop and the ability to hit long jumpers.
Other things to consider: Bryant led the way with a game-high 24 points in the Lakers' series clinching 98-80 game six win over the New Orleans Hornets; Bryant only played 30 minutes in that contest after logging just 29 minutes in game five--the latter being his lowest minutes total in a playoff game in more than a decade--but Bryant took over in key stretches during both games: his thunderous dunk over New Orleans center Emeka Okafor helped to turn the tide and boost the Lakers to victory in game five, while Bryant's 13 third quarter points in game six snuffed the final signs of life out of the Hornets.
In the Lakers' previous road closeout game, Bryant poured in 37 points as the Lakers beat the Suns 110-103 to advance to the 2010 NBA Finals; that was the eighth straight time that Bryant scored at least 30 points in a potential closeout game on the road, an NBA record (Elgin Baylor ranks second with six such games). Some pundits are obsessively focused on trying to quantify "clutch shooting" but it makes no sense to arbitrarily define "clutch" with certain time/score parameters; the sample sizes involved in such research are inherently small and volatile (taking such numbers seriously means equating shots taken after a team runs an out of bounds play with half court, desperation heaves and acting as if a handful of plays defines whether or not a player is "clutch"). A better definition of "clutch" is rising to the occasion when the competition is the toughest and the stakes are the highest; it is difficult to think of an NBA situation that better fits that bill than road closeout games: Bryant's performances in such games are a much more meaningful measurement of his abilities to come through in the clutch than looking at his shooting percentage on a handful of desperation shots.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:32 PM