Brian and Andy Kamenetzky provide insight on the Land O' Lakers blog for ESPN Los Angeles. With the Mavericks facing the defending champions tonight, our Jeff Caplan fed four questions to the Kamenetzky Brothers about the how the Mavs and Lakers match up.
1. Andrew Bynum has been a beast lately. Obviously when he's healthy and active he changes the dynamics at both ends for the Lakers. Still, the Lakers have been pretty good without him. How much better does Bynum make the Lakers?
When he plays as he has since the All-Star break, immeasurably.
The difference is most profound on the defensive end. For much of the season, the Lakers have worked on a new defensive system (spearheaded by assistant coach Chuck Person), relieving Bynum of many of his duties on the perimeter showing and recovering on the pick and roll, instead leaving him more in the paint and funneling penetration toward him. The results were hit and miss before the break -- some good nights, some less so -- but something clearly clicked of late.
Phil Jackson said he again spoke to Bynum about emphasizing defense and rebounding -- the same speech he's given Drew for the last couple years -- but the biggest difference is the system itself. Bynum is 23 years old and has great offensive talent. Like a lot of young players, he wants to do things that are tangible on the floor. Usually that involves scoring, but in this system Bynum can look up at the end of the day and see big block and rebounding totals. He gets the attention and affirmation from teammates and media.
There's nothing subtle about it.
Plugging him in the middle has also let the Lakers do a better job running players off the 3-point line and forcing more mid-range shots.
Offensively, Bynum has been strong on the glass, and (oddly) doesn't seem so concerned about how many touches he gets. He's no longer forcing shots up as regularly. Bynum is a very capable passer, when he's willing. Obviously, too, when he's strong, Bynum relieves a lot of pressure up front on Pau Gasol, letting him work effectively both in the post and away from the basket.
2. The knock on the Spurs in a series with the Lakers is their lack of interior height to go against Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The Mavs have three 7-footers in Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood and Dirk Nowitzki, plus 6-11 Ian Mahinmi to waste six fouls a game. Does the Mavs' length, more than they've ever had, and specifically constructed to compete with the Lakers in a series, concern L.A.?
Yes, and no.
Whether the Mavs are legit is something of a running debate among Lakers fans. The assumption, as I'm sure you know, is at some point something will go wrong for Dallas. They'll shrivel at precisely the wrong time. Doesn't help when the coach is calling them soft, either, though Rick Carlisle seemed to get the right reaction from his guys. Personally, I find this Mavericks team to be frightening, particularly if they have home-court advantage in a matchup with L.A. The size helps, for sure. Chandler, in particular, gives Dallas a presence the Lakers would have to deal with, particularly on the glass thanks to his activity. On the other hand, the Lakers tend to do just fine on Dirk with Odom and Gasol, and I don't think Haywood or Mahinmi scare the champs all that much.
Because of how Dirk plays, like a lot of people I don't really think of him as an interior player, despite his height, making it harder to think of Dallas as a team with great size inside. No question the number of bodies available lets them match up better with the Lakers than they have in past seasons, but what really makes the Mavs threatening is the depth and balance across the roster. While there's no clear answer to the "Who guards Kobe?" question, the Mavs have a ton of ways to put pressure on the Lakers defensively.
Like I said, I have a healthy fear of them, reputation notwithstanding.
3. Around here, we hear a lot about how Ron Artest has been aloof this season and just not very good. But, he could be the key to the series in a big, strong forward that likes to defend and can take on the challenge of frustrating Dirk Nowitzki. We've seen teams take Nowitzki out of his comfort zone, with Stephen Jackson when he was with Golden State doing perhaps the best job. Is Artest capable of getting his head right and being the defensive agitator against Nowitzki?
No question, though I'm not sure the Lakers necessarily have to go in that direction. I mentioned the success the Lakers have had with Odom and Gasol, and think they're pretty comfortable with those two. No question, though, the ability to deploy Artest on Dirk depending on the matchups is very enticing. He can be incredibly effective against players with length -- just ask Kevin Durant -- particularly those who don't necessarily love a 250-pound middle linebacker/small forward playing seriously physical ball.
It's not just Artest's bulk, but his quick hands that bother offensive players. When he's locked in, and increasingly he's getting there, Artest can cut players out of the offense like a great defensive back can remove a wide reciever.
What he doesn't do as well, thanks to his size, is work through screens. Should P.J. go that direction, I'd expect Carlisle to use a lot of off-ball action to free up Dirk, then let him use his size and agility in space to gain the advantage. It's not like Artest is going to elevate and bother Dirk's shot if Nowitzki can get some space. That the Lakers can throw strength and length at Dirk can't make Mavs fans feel comfortable.
4. The Mavs recently acquired Corey Brewer for several reasons, not the least of which is to help Shawn Marion guard players like Kobe. Of the West contenders, is there a team that can attack Kobe with two tall and long-armed defenders like the Mavs can with Brewer and Marion?
Oklahoma City has typically defended Kobe well and this year coaxed a bad game from him with a combination of Kevin Durant and James Harden. Portland throws Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews at him and now can defend him with Gerald Wallace, too. San Antonio doesn't necessarily fit the profile, but in two of the three games against the Spurs this year, they've kept Kobe under wraps.
You mentioned the size factor above, and honestly it's not something that Lakers fans spend much time worrying about when considering the Mavs, despite respect for Chandler. But I can tell you the addition of Brewer really spooked some folks. Some of it is because of the natural tendency to overrate any street free agent available, some because when buyout season rolled around the Lakers weren't on quite as solid footing as they are now. But a lot was Brewer's profile as a defender. It's easy to see how useful he could be for Dallas in a seven-game series matching up against Kobe. Plus, he's young and athletic, something the Lakers generally aren't.
Does Dallas now have the best two-man combo to throw at Bryant? Probably not, but it's a lot better than it was, assuming the Mavs can absorb Brewer's spotty offensive game. If they can keep Kobe on the wing, it'll probably be fine. The big key to fully stopping Kobe is keeping him off his spots in the low, mid and high posts, where he can eat up almost any defender or force so much help his way the Lakers tend to get easy buckets. Often, it can be more of a team challenge.