For the Lakers, a two-game losing streak threatens to dampen the good vibes since the acquisition of new point guard Ramon Sessions, plus swelling hopes for homecourt advantage throughout much of the playoffs. For the Mavericks, a four-game winning streak could signal stability after an inconsistent, sometimes turbulent season. Will either team find its path interrupted?
For a look at what may lie ahead in tonight's third of four meetings between the two teams, I had an instant message conversation with Andy Kamenetzky, who covers the Lakers with his brother Brian on the Land O'Lakers blog at ESPNLA.com.
AK: So what's the latest on Marion? He's always a key factor in defending Kobe Bryant.
JC: Marion indeed has been terrific against Kobe this year, limiting him to 14.5 points a game, which is like half his league-leading average, and below 30 percent from the field. His left knee has been sore for weeks, but finally forced him out. It was examined Monday and no structural damage was found. I suspect he plays against L.A., but don't hold me to that.
How do you think the Lakers will be different with Ramon Sessions?
AK: In theory, they'll be running more pick-and-roll, and there's a legitimate threat beyond Kobe at the wing to attack the rim. He's also the fastest point guard since Jordan Farmar, but with a bigger role on the horizon. So in other words, very different, and there will be adjustments for everyone involved. Sessions has to learn the playbook and where his teammates like the ball. Sessions' teammates must get used to his speed, and working with a player not named "Kobe" who keeps the rock in his hands so often. (In particular, the Mamba, who hasn't played with a guard this ball dominant since Nick Van Exel.) And most importantly, Brown must figure out the best ways to mesh his new acquisition, a test for a coach not known for offensive creativity. But with everyone cooperating, it's a marriage that should be tremendously beneficial.
Speaking of marriages (Obligatory Khloe joke alert!!!), what's the latest with "As Lamar Odom turns?"
JC: Well, if you looked at recent box scores, you wouldn't think it's working out. If you listen to coach Rick Carlisle, he'll try to make you believe it is. Carlisle has praised Odom's "activity" of late and he was active in the win over Denver with nine rebounds and five assists. He also had five fouls -- that qualifies as active, right? -- and four turnovers. His shooting continues to be atrocious. He's been in the 20 percent range for a couple weeks and passed up some open looks against Denver... which might have been a good decision.
The big issue is starting center Haywood will not play because of a sprained right knee. That leaves foul-prone Ian Mahinmi and skinny leaper Brandan Wrightto man the middle. Last time, the Lakers absolutely obliterated the Mavs inside. If these teams meet up in the playoffs, do the Lakers have a significant advantage inside with Tyson Chandler gone?
AK: Definitely, but to me the biggest advantage the Lakers have is they really hate the Mavs. They've played some of their best ball against teams they loathe: the Clippers, the Celtics and the Mavs. Beyond any particular matchup, I really think organic animosity could be their single greatest asset against Dallas.
Having said that, what matchup do you think could be pivotal in this matchup?
JC: Before the last game, you highlighted Dirk Nowitzki versus Pau Gasol, and I think I'm going your way this time. In Dirk's last four games, he's gone for 27, 27, 27 and 33 points. He's shooting phenomenally, dropping his patented one-legged lean-away and hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers, many in transition from the top of the arc. He's really taken the lead again for this team. I think he's going to attack Pau early. And in the last game, Pau really had success attacking Dirk in the paint with a bevy of nice moves.
AK: Personally, I'm curious how Sessions does matched up against either Jason Terry or Roddy Beaubois. They're very different players, but both can be challenging covers. Sessions has excited fans with his offensive arsenal but hasn't been challenged often defensively. This could be a nice test, since I imagine he'll find himself checking one or both guys.
JC: Beaubois is a true X factor. He is finally showing signs of being the dynamic offensive player the Mavs thought he could be. He's had good games against bad teams and came up with solid outings against the Spurs and Nuggets. So this matchup will be fun to see how he progresses or regresses.
AK: And finally, predictions!
JC: Well, the odds say the Mavs get their first win against L.A. this season. However, I am going to go with the Lakers' inside advantage. If Marion doesn't play, the Mavs are really in trouble. If he does, we'll have to see how healthy he is to guard Kobe. I'm going to say the Lakers ride that hate to another win over the Mavs.
AK: I'm actually taking Dallas, assuming the Matrix dresses. I think the Lakers have one more regular-season win against Dallas in them, but it'll come at Staples on April 15.