Dallas Mavericks: Lakers
The curious case of Kelenna Azubuike as a member of the Dallas Mavericks started March 22 when the club released athletic big man Sean Williams, who had spent most of the season with the D-League Texas Legends.
A week earlier, the San Antonio Spurs had traded for Stephen Jackson and were closing in on signing Boris Diaw to bolster their roster for a deep playoff run. What were the defending champion Mavericks up to in releasing Williams and opening a spot on the 15-man roster? Who was on their radar that could provide an immediate jolt one month from the true start of their title defense?
Last year, Dalllas signed veteran sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and the move paid off handsomely. At this point in the season, they could use someone like him. Three-point shooting -- heck, shooting in general --- had taken a significant dip throughout the truncated schedule and the Mavs would need firepower down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Could 3-point specialist Jason Kapono, recently released by the Lakers, be on his way? Maybe the 6-foot-7 Andres Nocioni? Sure, he was down on his luck, but still he was a 37.3 percent 3-point shooter throughout his career.
Turns out Kapono wasn't coming and neither was Nociono.
Who'd the Mavs have up their sleeve?
Azubuike, an intriguing shooting guard, oh, about three seasons ago before a torn patellar tendon put his career on indefinite hold.
And the Countdown ticks down to No. 10 ...
Ht/Wt: 6-5, 215
Experience: 5 years
Age: 28 (Dec. 16, 1983)
2011-12 stats: Played total of 18 minutes in three games
Contract status: Team option for next season
2011-12 salary: $280,192
2012-13 salary: $992,680
His outlook: The Mavs believe they have the best head athletic trainer in the game today in Casey Smith and an elite orthopedic crew headed by team doc T.O. Souryal. Azubuike will be three years removed from the horrific knee injury that put his burgeoning career in jeopardy and one that remains terribly difficult to watch on YouTube. But here's the hope for Azubuike: A second surgery in March 2011 was performed to fix the first surgery that wasn't done properly. Azubuike confirmed that fact on Twitter in March 2011, saying: "The 1st surgery in '09 wasn’t done right. Gettin it done right this time!” The Mavs' medical and training staffs have a track record with patellar tendon injuries after Caron Butler's awful injury on Jan. 1, 2011, in Milwaukee, which happens to be where Azubuike also blew up his knee. There's no guarantee that the the former Kentucky Wildcat will ever regain his explosiveness, but watching Butler this season with the Los Angeles Clippers has to be encouraging that he can at least be a productive player. At less than $1 million next season, Azubuike is low-risk and if he turns out to be high-reward, the Mavs will have made a shrewd move at a time when many were scratching their heads at the timing of the signing.
No. 15 Lamar Odom
No. 14 Brian Cardinal
No. 13 Yi Jianlian
No. 12 Dominique Jones
No. 11 Brendan Haywood
No. 10 Kelenna Azubuike
No. 9 Coming Tuesday
That streak could end Saturday night if the Dallas Mavericks don't find a way to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4. If a sweep happens, Thunder guard Derek Fisher warned the Mavs to be prepared for it to sting beyond this summer.
|Charles Barkley explains how he always knew Father Time would catch up with the Mavs. He also says Deron Williams alone won't help the Mavs win a title.
Fisher said he still thinks about last season's sweep with the Lakers at the hands of a Mavs team that played brilliantly in that series, but looks quite a bit different today.
"It’s tough to compare teams on a year to year basis, but I think it speaks to how you obviously need your stars to be stars," Fisher said. "You need Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry and Shawn Marion, guys that have been All-Stars, Jason Kidd’s a Hall of Famer, you need those guys to be who they are, and I think by and large they have been. But there’s no way to overstate the importance of those other guys, the importance of guys that are willing to sacrifice shots and playing time and individual success for what’s best for the team.
"So when you think about Tyson Chandler, a guy like a Deshawn Stevenson who added toughness and 3-point shooting last year, J.J. Barea, Peja [Stojakovic] being a veteran guy that had been on successful teams before, you throw all that in the pie, those are key guys to miss. When you’re trying to replace the type of guys they lost last season and then unfortunately for a guy I care about, Lamar Odom, having that situation going on throughout the year, I think it’s been tougher for them to find the type of chemistry and cohesiveness they had last season, this season."
Fisher said even with the 3-0 lead, he's not discounting a last-stand by the defending champs.
"They still have championship DNA, and until this thing is over one way or another I’m not going to assume that these guys are ready to ride into the sunset," Fisher said. "We’re going to have to eliminate this team. They’re not going to hand us advancing to the next round."
Before Thursday's finale against the Hawks, when the Mavericks still weren't sure if they would face the Lakers or Thunder in the playoffs, Shawn Marion wouldn't let his mind wander to his next defensive assignment.
Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. Black Mamba or Durantula. Pick your poison. But what else is new for the Defensive Player of the Year candidate?
"He’s had his hands full all year," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We stuck him on point guards, we stuck him on forwards, we stuck him on 2s, 3s, wherever the best player was he’s out there competing for us. That’s the good thing about him; he can guard multiple positions. He’s fast enough to stay with the small guys but he’s also long enough to bother some of the bigger guys. So yeah, he’s going to be big for us."
On Saturday night, the 6-foot-7 Marion, 10 days removed from his 34th birthday, will employ his long arms and fearless mindset into attacking arguably the longest-limbed and most lethal offensive weapon in the game today in the 6-foot-9 Durant. And don't discount the occasional possession in which Marion's task will shift to explosive point guard Russell Westbrook.
"Oh man, it’s difficult, it’s not easy," Marion said. "Like tonight, I go from from Joe (Johnson) to Josh (Smith) and there’s no telling. You got to do what you got to do."
The 23-year-old Durant just wrapped up his third consecutive scoring title, becoming the first to win it in three years in a row since Michael Jordan. Durant finished this season averaging 28.0 points on a career-best 49.6 shooting.
Durant's numbers against the Mavs and Marion improved this season in four regular-season games, three won by the Thunder. In last year's Western Conference finals, in 163 minutes in which Durant and Marion were on the floor at the same time, the Texas ex scored 91 points on 29-of-76 shooting (38.2 percent), including just 3-of-20 from beyond the 3-point arc. When Marion was on the court, Durant's plus-minus rating was a minus-30. With Marion off the floor, Durant swung to plus-15.
His numbers vastly improved in the four meetings this season. In 125 minutes with both players on the court, Durant scored 82 points on 27-of-57 shooting (47.4 percent), including 6-of-15 on 3s (an area of significant improvement for Durant this season at 38.7 percent). He was plus-4 with Marion on the floor compared to plus-2 with Marion off the court.
"You play to do everything, you play because you love the game. you play to compete," Marion said. "And when you’re a competitor you want to compete, you want to go out there and do what you’ve got to do."
standings: Dallas heads into its fourth consecutive day off knowing it will face either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The Los Angeles Clippers' loss Tuesday locked the Lakers into the No. 3 seed. The Clips are now trying to hold onto the No. 4 seed for home-court advantage in a first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Jazz 100, Suns 88: Paul Millsap poured in 26 points and Al Jefferson had 18 to secure the final playoff spot and knock Steve Nash out for a second consecutive season. Utah will face the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Hawks 109, Clippers 102: Blake Griffin scored 36 points, but Joe Johnson had 28 to lead the Hawks, who are bearing down on home-court advantage in the first round in the East. The Clips were eliminated from contention for the No. 3 seed in the West and now hope to stave off the Grizzlies for home-court advantage.
TODAY’S MEANINGFUL MATCHUPS
Nuggets at Thunder
Clippers at Knicks
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Thunder
Mavs' spot in the standings: Idle Dallas can check the San Antonio Spurs off its list of potential first-round playoff foes. The Spurs walloped Portland to clinch the No. 1 seed, which also locked the Oklahoma City Thunder into the No. 2 seed. If the Mavs, who don't play until Thursday, stay at No. 7, they will face the Thunder with Game 1 at OKC this weekend. A move up to No. 6 likely draws the Lakers, with the Clippers still in the hunt for the No. 3 seed.
Spurs 124, Trail Blazers 89: San Antonio clinched the No. 1 seed in winning its eighth consecutive game, all by double-digit margins.
Grizzlies 109, Cavaliers 101: Six Grizzlies scored in double figures as they kept hope alive for the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage.
Clippers at Hawks
Kings at Thunder
Suns at Jazz
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Thunder
Mavs' spot in the standings: Denver's second-half blowout of Orlando on Sunday moved it a half-game ahead of Dallas for the No. 6 seed. The Nuggets have two games remaining. The Mavs have one and they own the tiebreaker so nothing is settled. Elsewhere, the Spurs' win combined with the Thunder's loss at the Lakers on Sunday gives the Spurs a 1 1/2-game lead atop of the Western Conference while the Lakers moved a step closer to clinching the No. 3 seed.
Lakers 114, Thunder 106 (2OT): Two critical questions remain from this one: How deep into the playoffs will the certain suspension coming to Metta World Peace go for landing an elbow to the side of James Harden's head, and will the concussion Harden sustained keep him out of the start of the playoffs?
Nuggets 101, Magic 74: The game was tied 44-44 at halftime. Denver's second-half surge puts it in control of finishing ahead of Dallas in the No. 6 seed with two games to go.
Heat 97, Rockets 88: Houston led by as many as 13, but couldn't hold it and was eliminated from playoff contention.
Spurs 114, Cavaliers 98: Manu Ginobili scored 20 points off the bench as San Antonio won its seventh in a row and has the No. 1 seed within their grasp with three games to play.
Clippers 107, Hornets 98: L.A. rallies with a 33-14 fourth quarter to keep the No. 3 seed in play and tighten its grip on the No. 4 seed.
Cavaliers at Grizzlies
Trail Blazers at Spurs
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Thunder
Mavs' spot in the standings: The Mavs took a one game lead over the idle Denver Nuggets for the No. 6 seed. Both teams are in action tonight. Dallas plays at Chicago in a game the Bulls need to maintain their lead for the No. 1 seed in the East, and the Nuggets play at the Phoenix Suns, who are clinging to the No. 8 seed.
Mavs 104, Warriors 94: Vince Carter continues to heat up with 19 points as the Mavs won their final home game to finish 23-10 at home and 26-22 against Western Conference foes.
Spurs 121, Lakers 97: San Antonio makes a loud statement with a second consecutive win over the Lakers, this one coming in Kobe Bryant's return from a shin injury. Spurs hold onto the No. 1 seed.
Grizzlies 85, Bobcats 80: Memphis trailed by 10 at the end of the third quarter, but rallied to beat Charlotte, which has lost 19 in a row. The Grizzlies still have a shot at the No. 4 seed and homecourt in the first round, likely against the Clippers.
Thunder 103, Kings 92: Kevin Durant had 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists as the Thunder kept the heat on the Spurs for the top spot.
Mavs at Bulls
Nuggets at Suns
Trail Blazers at Grizzlies
Warriors at Rockets
Magic at Jazz
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Lakers
The Dallas Mavericks clinched a playoff berth Thursday with New Orleans' win over Houston. Now attention turns strictly to seeding and matchups.
With the Mavs (35-28) -- back in action tonight for their home finale against the Golden State Warriors -- and Denver Nuggets (34-28) in a virtual dead heat in the Western Conference standings and both teams now two games ahead of the trailing Utah Jazz (33-30) and Phoenix Suns (33-30) in the loss column, the jockeying between the two is coming down to the sixth and seventh seeds.
Which would the Mavs prefer? As the seventh seed the Mavs know their travel will be light to play the No. 2 seed. They'd start the playoffs either north of the Red River at the Oklahoma City Thunder or on the River Walk at the San Antonio Spurs. The sixth seed will face the No. 3 seed and likely head to Los Angeles to face Kobe Bryant's Lakers. Chris Paul's Clippers lost Thursday at Phoenix, a hit to their chances of moving up and Memphis remains a long shot.
"It doesn’t matter at all," Jason Terry said of which seed the Mavs finish. "We've just got to get in. One more game and we solidify one of those three spots and and we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a helluva playoffs. If I'm a fan I'm sitting here waiting. I can’t wait for the next week and a half to be up."
Jet can just about forget about the eighth seed. The Mavs hold the tiebreaker on the Nuggets, Jazz and Suns.
So which team, the Mavs or Nuggets, hold the upper hand to finish in sixth? Well, it depends just as much on how those two teams approach their final games after playoff berths are locked up as it does on their opponents' approach.
For instance, the Mavs could face a Chicago Bulls team Saturday night intent on finishing with the best record in the NBA. The Atlanta Hawks on Thursday could still be dueling with the Boston Celtics and/or Orlando Magic for the No. 4 seed and homecourt in the first round.
Here's the breakdown of schedules for the Mavs and Nuggets:
Mavs (winning percentage of opponents: .573)
Fri: vs. Golden State (22-39)
Sat: at Chicago (47-15)
April 26: at Atlanta (37-25)
Nuggets (winning percentage of opponents:.554)
Sat: at Phoenix (32-30)
Sun: vs. Orlando (36-26)
Wed: at Oklahoma City (45-17)
April 26: at Minnesota (25-38)
Just look at the numbers. Against the Lakers and Jazz, Dallas was outrebounded on the offensive glass 29-13 and outscored on second-chance points 31-18. The Mavs lost the two games by a total of six points.
"We were playing with smaller lineups a lot of the night [at Utah] so you're going to be up against it to some degree," coach Rick Carlisle said Monday. "I’d like to outrebound every team. It just doesn’t happen every time."
The Mavs were smaller -- to a degree -- at the end of regulation against the Jazz with 7-foot, 263-pound center Brendan Haywood on the bench. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Ian Mahinmi was at center with 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki at power forward and Vince Carter at small forward. Dallas led 89-87 with Utah playing to tie on its last possession. Jason Kidd forced Gordon Hayward into a difficult, off-balance shot from the baseline as the clock ticked under five seconds.
What happened next took a comeback win out of the Mavs' hands and led to three overtimes and an eventual Jazz victory.
"Ian helped, which he probably shouldn’t have since Kidd rolled Hayward out pretty good," Nowitzki said. "So then he [Hayward] missed a shot, so then I had [Al] Jefferson and [Paul] Millsap coming at me and I decided to go for Jefferson who was coming high in the lane, and the ball bounced straight to the baseline. That’s where Millsap came. Like I said, we helped and then it was 2-on-1 on the boards and they made us pay."
Millsap, who combined with Jefferson for nine of the Jazz's 14 offensive boards, swooped in from the baseline and slammed in the game-tying basket to force overtime. Jefferson, who tied a career-high with 26 rebounds, nearly won it in the first OT when he snared an offensive board with less than a second to go, but missed the 2-foot tip.
And then there was little-known DeMarre Carroll in the final overtime soaring in and swiping Jefferson's missed jumper with 33.9 seconds to go and the Jazz up by two. The second chance ate up 19 seconds before Millsap got to the free throw line. He made one of two for a three-point lead with 14.9 seconds left.
"We had our chances," Nowitzki said. "If we get that one rebound in regulation the game's over."
The Mavs (34-27) have yet to secure a playoff spot with five games to go, but they certainly have the upper hand in getting in and finishing with the sixth seed. But nothing is guaranteed and that includes getting a win tonight at Utah, a team desperately clinging to playoff contention.
So here we go:
Today: at Utah Jazz (31-30), 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: The Mavs know they're going to get the Jazz's best game. They got a night off and have to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Dallas is 2-0 against Utah but hasn't seen the Jazz since early March. The big issue for the Mavs could be fatigue after Sunday's overtime loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles. Dirk Nowitzki played a team-high 43 minutes. Jason Kidd played a season-high 39, Delonte West and Brendan Haywood each played 38 minutes and Jason Terry played 37.
Wednesday: versus Houston Rockets (32-28), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: KTXA (Ch. 21)/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Another desperate team is on the docket. The Rockets ended the week Sunday with a third consecutive loss after winning four in a row. Houston gets Denver at home tonight and depending on that result and how the Mavs fare at Utah, this game could be absolutely huge just to get into the playoffs.
Friday: versus Golden State Warriors (22-37), 7:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: If ever there was a gimme game, this is it in the home finale. The Warriors (10-20 on the road), via trade and injury, are completely depleted. Their best healthy player might not be healthy any longer as David Lee has a strained groin and a stress reaction and could miss the rest of the season. Dallas came close to blowing a big lead at Golden State to start this current four-game road trip. If the Mavs don't win this one easily at home then they might as well pack it in for the summer.
Saturday: at Chicago Bulls (46-14), 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSSW/103.3 FM ESPN; 1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: This will be the Bulls' third-to-last game, and as they start the week with a 3 1/2-game lead over Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East, it's debatable as to whether the Mavs will see a full Bulls lineup or not. By this point, if the Mavs have not clinched a playoff spot, they could be in serious jeopardy of matching the 1999 Bulls as the last defending champ not to make the playoffs. Chicago could still be jockeying with Oklahoma City and San Antonio for best overall record, so it's hard to say at this point how each coach will approach the game.
Wright has been sensational recently and racked up minutes against teams that play smaller lineups with the exception of playing 36 minutes against the burly Grizzlies when Ian Mahinmi was out during the birth of his daughter.
"We don't want to get in that situation if we can avoid it," coach Rick Carlisle said of Wright defending Bynum. "He was in that situation last game [against the Lakers] because Wood was out. We'd rather keep bigger-bodied guys on Bynum if we can. If we have to go smaller, he'll be on him."
With Haywood injured during the last meeting, the Mavs double-teamed Bynum, averaging 35.4 minutes a game, early and often. The 7-footer finished with just nine points on five shots, but Kobe Bryant had 30, Pau Gasol scored 27 and Ramon Sessions went for 17.
Could Wright find time at power forward guarding Gasol now that Lamar Odom is out of the picture? Wright has seen limited time at power forward since Odom's departure, but Carlisle clearly prefers the 6-foot-10 leaper at center.
"It's possible, it's possible. We have to see how things are going in late first, early second quarter," Carlisle said of the power forward option. "That's a possibility, but it's not something that's a for-sure definite because of the dynamics of this game. But, we'll see, we'll see. Last game without Haywood it put is in a difficult spot with our smaller big guys having to guard Bynum."
Mavs' spot in the standings: The No. 6 seed is the Mavs' for the taking. Both Houston and Denver lost Friday night to fall 1 1/2 games back of Dallas in the standings. Plus, the Mavs hold the tiebreaker over both clubs with six games to play.
Mavs 97, Blazers 94: Dallas led by 20 points late in the third quarter, but eight turnovers in the fourth quarter energized Portland and produced a massive run that only its own late turnovers sabotaged from being a one-possession game in the final minutes.
Lakers 103, Nuggets 97: L.A. picks up another impressive win as Kobe Bryant missed his fourth consecutive game with a shin injury and Andrew Bynum went for 30 points and eight rebounds.
Suns 112, Rockets 105: Another big road win for Steve Nash and company while the Rockets lose their second in a row at home and, along with Denver, are dangerously close to being passed by the Suns.
Hornets 96, Jazz 85: Horrible road loss for the 10th-place Jazz, whose playoff hopes are now on life support with a must-have game at Memphis tonight.
Thunder 115, Kings 89: Easy home win as the Thunder look to hold off the Spurs for the No. 1 seed.
Warriors at Clippers
Thunder at Timberwolves
Jazz at Grizzlies
Suns at Spurs
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Lakers
Mavs' spot in the standings: Utah's win at Houston, plus Denver's home win over the Timberwolves has the Mavs, Rockets and Nuggets all deadlocked, with Dallas taking over the No. 6 seed thanks to tiebreakers over both teams. All three are 1 1/2 games ahead of the ninth-place Jazz.
Jazz 103, Rockets 91: Houston shot 35.6 percent at home and the Jazz picked up just their 10th road win of the season in Houston while snapping the Rockets' four-game win streak.
Lakers 98, Spurs 84: Andrew Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds to go with 16 points as the Lakers recorded their most impressive victory in some time, and they did it without Kobe Bryant.
Clippers 100, Thunder 98: Chris Paul scored 31 points and OKC's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to go 10-of-35 from the field. Thanks to the Spurs' loss, the Thunder maintain the No. 1 seed.
Grizzlies 104, Suns 93: The sizzling Grizzles put a damper in the Suns' playoff hopes as Rudy Gay scored 32 points and the Memphis bench went for 42 points.
Nuggets 113, Timberwolves 107: Denver led by 21 at halftime but had to sweat it out down the stretch after an offense that scored 68 points in the first half managed just 45 in the second half.
Mavs at Warriors
Grizzlies at Spurs
Clippers at Timberwolves
If the playoffs started today: Mavs vs. Lakers
DALLAS -- How it happened: Ramon Sessions found his groove and it was more than Jason Terry and the Mavs could handle. While the predicted fury from Andrew Bynum never really materialized thanks to constant double-teaming, and Kobe Bryant had his first big game against Dallas -- adding a spectacular highlight-reel, gravity-defying reverse layup -- it was the newcomer Sessions who changed the game in the first half and put the shorthanded Mavs on their heels.
Sessions' line: 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 2 of 3 from deep, seven assists, four rebounds, a blocked shot and one turnover -- in the first half.
And the Lakers ended the half up 13, 57-44.
Sessions didn't play nearly the entire third quarter and then, with 11:03 left in the game and the Mavs within eight for the first time in a long time, he drilled a top-of-the-arc 3 for an 83-72 lead. With Sessions settling things down, the Lakers went up 94-78 with 6:45 to go and Dallas never challenged from there.
The Mavs' four-game showing of rare offensive cohesion that led to four consecutive games of 100-plus points went down the drain as the Lakers, swept by Dallas in last year's second round, have won the first three of four meetings this season. The final game is back in L.A. on April 15.
The Mavs will hope to be whole by then. In this one they were not, not by a long shot. Center Brendan Haywood missed his third consecutive game with a bruised right knee. His absence didn't set off any Bynum offensive fireworks, as the Lakers' big man surprisingly had only nine points, although Haywood might have helped close a rebounding gap that favored L.A. 46-29.
The bigger loss was small forward Shawn Marion, who also missed his third consecutive game with a sore left knee. Marion is the Mavs' Kobe stopper, having limited the league's leading scorer to 14.5 points in the two prior games. Bryant, using his height to rise over Jason Kidd and later Vince Carter, finished with 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Pau Gasol had 27 points on magnificent 13-of-16 shooting, making the Mavs pay for their double-team on Bynum.
Sessions finished with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, and nine assists. The Mavs should have feisty Delonte West (fractured right ring finger) back to stick on Sessions in mid-April.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 26 points and 10 rebounds, but he wasn't sharp with his jumper, starting 4-of-10 and finishing 10-of-24. Terry, with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, was the only other Mavs player to score in double digits. One game after Dallas set a season-high with 33 assists against Denver, the Mavs managed just 15 against the stingier Lakers.
How'd Lamar Odom do against his former team, you ask? Odom looked as lost, finishing with a single point. He missed the three shots he attempted and picked up an assist and a rebound along the way in 24 minutes.
The Mavs shot 52.2 percent in the first quarter and led 29-27. But their lead, as big as eight, was short-lived as the Lakers' bench came alive in the second quarter, led by Sessions, Matt Barnes and Troy Murphy.
Bryant played the entire first quarter and by the time he re-entered the game with 6:04 to go, the Lakers had a 38-34 lead. Sessions hit his second 3-pointer with 3:09 left to cap a 24-6 run a 51-38 lead.
The Lakers ended the game shooting 58.4 percent, while the Mavs dropped to 42.7 percent.
Call the Lakers the streak-stoppers. It was L.A. in February that they stopped Dallas' six-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. Now they ended a four-game streak as Dallas dropped to 5-8 out of the break.
What it means: The Mavs' four-game win streak is history as they fell to 27-21 and dropped a game to the Spurs in the standings, falling five games back in the division race and 2 1/2 games behind the Lakers in the conference standings. Now it's on to another rugged back-to-back against the revenge-seeking Spurs (Friday) and the scrappy Houston Rockets (Saturday), who have recent wins at Oklahoma City and at home Tuesday over the Lakers.
Bold play of the game: Posting up Kidd and calling for the ball, Kobe didn't get it from Metta World Peace dribbling up top. Instead World Peace swung it to Gasol, who saw Bryant spin past Kidd toward the baseline. Gasol sent a lob that Bryant caught on the right side of the basket as Kidd made body contact. Somehow Bryant kept his balance in midair and converted a flick-of-the-wrist reverse layup off the glass. After a Mavs timeout, he made the free throw for a 69-55 lead, the Lakers' largest margin of the game just minutes after Dallas had got within seven points.
Stat of the game: The Lakers rank 28th in the league in 3-point shooting (30.8 percent), but they buried 9 of 18 with Sessions and Barnes each draining three.
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.
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Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.