A five-point preview of the Mavericks-Lakers series from a Dallas perspective:
MacMahon: They have one of the most uniquely dominant 7-footers in NBA history. Dirk Nowitzki, a power forward who is the league’s premier midrange jump shooter, is the primary reason the Mavericks have any chance to win a championship. He joins Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan as the only players to be centerpieces of franchises that had decade-plus streaks of 50-win seasons. He joins Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon on the list of players with 25-point, 10-rebound career playoff averages. He’ll present just as difficult a defensive challenge for the Lakers as New Orleans’ Chris Paul did in the first round, albeit in completely different ways.
Caplan: Without question it's Dirk Nowitzki. He has evolved into one of the most strong-willed, clutch players in the game. He emerged as dominant fourth-quarter performer in the first round against Portland and displayed an arsenal of offensive weaponry, including far more aggressive driving than we've seen. Although he'll be busy on the defensive end against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Lakers haven't found a way to stop Dirk, who averaged 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds against L.A. this season. On a team that can't tell you who will be the second-leading scorer from night to night, Dirk will have play at an MVP level every night. His 27.3 scoring average against Portland, despite shooting only 45.2 percent from the floor, suggests he can.
MacMahon: The Mavericks don’t have a player they can count on to exploit the Lakers’ defensive problems at point guard. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer, but at 38, he’s far from a threat to create off the dribble. It actually seems that he’s more effective – and certainly more comfortable – shooting from 23 feet than 23 inches. The Mavs hoped that Rodrigue Beaubois would be the dynamic creator they’ve lacked, but they found out after he returned from a broken foot that the second-year guard isn’t ready for a starting role. With his confidence shot, Beaubois will probably ride the bench for the series and might not even be active in some games.
Caplan: The Mavs' small backcourt didn't hurt them as some thought against Portland's bigger guards, especially on the second units, but the Lakers are a whole other story. It all starts with Kobe Bryant. The Mavs don't possess a true shooting guard with size and that can defend and score. DeShawn Stevenson, the team's 12th man who became a starter first because of Rodrigue Beaubois' broken foot and then his ineffectiveness, will start out on Bryant, he typically plays on only 13-15 minutes. Behind Stevenson is the 6-2 Terry, an offensive force, and Beaubois, plus under-6-foot backup point guard J.J.Barea, who plays the 2 sometimes next to Jason Kidd. The problem with Kobe, then becomes an issue with Ron Artest because the Mavs' answer to Kobe will be small forward Ron Artest, which then leaves the 6-4, 210-pound Kidd to wrestle with the 6-7, 260-pound Artest.We saw that movie once and the Mavs really don't want to see a sequel.
MOST IMPORTANT MATCHUP
MacMahon: Tyson Chandler, the heart and soul of the Dallas defense, has to hold his own against Andrew Bynum. That didn’t happen in the last two Mavs-Lakers meetings, when Bynum averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds while making 15 of 21 shots from the floor in a pair of L.A. wins. Bynum’s bulk presents big problems for Chandler, who is about 45 pounds lighter than the 285-pound Bynum. It’s almost impossible for Chandler to prevent Bynum from scoring when the Lakers big man establishes position deep in the paint; Bynum was 14-of-15 when he shot the ball within five feet of the hoop against the Mavericks this season.
Caplan: Look to the paint. Mavs president Donnie Nelson claimed the reason for trading for Tyson Chandler in the offseason was to matchup against the Lakers. Interestingly, after 23 years of never seeing one another in the playoffs, the Mavs and Lakers hook up in the 7-foot-1 Chandler's first season. Chandler's first big issue is to avoid foul trouble, which he couldn't in the first four games against Portland and the series was tied 2-2. He'll tag-team with fellow 7-foot center Brendan Haywood and try to contain Bynum from scoring too easily and grabbing offensive rebounds. They didn't fare well in three regular season games as Bynum averaged 16.7 points and 11.7 rebounds. However, the most disturbing number for Dallas is Bynum's shooting percentage -- 70.4 percent, his high against any team this season. And from ESPN Stats and Information, comes this nugget: Bynum averaged 9.3 points per game inside of 5 feet against the Mavs this season, his most against any Western Conference opponent.
PLAYER TO WATCH
MacMahon: Jason Terry is coming off his most productive playoff series since the 2006 Finals run, having averaged 17.3 points on 49 percent shooting against Portland. The Mavs need that to continue. As much as the Mavs talk about a balanced approach, they’re at their best when Terry serves as Nowitzki’s scoring sidekick. They are 19-4 when Terry scores at least 20 points this season, including the playoffs. Look for the Lakers to try to frustrate Terry with physical play, something recent playoff foes have been able to accomplish. Terry, who got ejected after picking up a flagrant foul in the Mavs’ March 30 loss at the Staples Center, can’t afford to lose his composure.
Caplan: Jason Kidd scored 21 points, knocked down five 3s and dished out 10 assists in the Mavs' lone win against the Lakers this season. In the two losses, he had combined for 11 points, three 3s and 15 assists. With games coming quickly in this series, every other day until Game 7 if it's necessary, Kidd's endurance will be put to the challenge, especially if he must guard anyone other than Derek Fisher, and depending on who's in when, Kidd might have to take time on Kobe Bryant and even Ron Artest. Kidd stirs the drink. When he's in a flow offensively and has a bounce in step on defense, he can control the pace and get the Mavs in transition, a la the 109-100 win in Dallas on Jan. 19.
TO WIN SERIES, MAVS MUST …
MacMahon: Start with stealing Game 1 at the Staples Center. Phil Jackson’s teams are undefeated in the 48 playoff series that they’ve opened with a win. Of course, beating the Lakers in front of Jack Nicholson and Co. is a lot easier said than done, even for the NBA’s best road team over the last two seasons. Carlisle emphasizes aggression as the key, especially on defense and the glass. If the Mavs can get stops and rebound, the points will come in transition and out of their flow offense. If the Mavs have to take the ball out of the bucket, their offense is likely to bog down in the halfcourt and this series could turn uglier than Shawn Marion’s crooked left pinkie finger.
Caplan: Play flawlessly. They can't have high turnover games as they have done this season. They must move the ball and get everyone involved. They need four and five or more scorers in double figures every game. And, Tyson Chandler must stay out of foul trouble and stay on the floor for 30 minutes or more a game. Without him on the floor directing the defense and fanning the emotion, Kidd and the Mavs will be on the golf course in less than two weeks.