Dallas Mavericks: Matt Barnes

If Dwight Howard chooses Dallas, then what? How do the Mavericks fill out the roster around him?

The grand plan is to add another major piece or two to the championship puzzle next summer, when Dirk Nowitzki clears cap space by taking a drastic pay cut on his next contract. But the immediate goal will be to construct a roster that gives the Mavs the best possible chance of contending this season.

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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.

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Let’s take a look at the options, assuming for the sake of discussion that the Mavs dump Shawn Marion’s salary in a deal to create the cap space necessary to sign Howard to a max deal and then some. If the Mavs took no money back in a Marion trade, that’d leave between $5.6 million and $6.6 million in cap room after signing Howard, depending on whether they kept Brandan Wright’s Early Bird rights and the non-guaranteed contracts of Bernard James and Josh Akognon.

That could very well be enough money to sign point guard Jose Calderon, a prime Mavs target who turned down an offer from the Kings this week because he wanted to play for a winner.

If that’s the case, the Mavs would have a terrific basketball brain, distributor and spot-up shooter to help put Howard and Nowitzki in position to succeed offensively. Calderon’s defensive flaws – and that’s putting it politely – would be masked by having a three-time Defensive Player of the Year behind him.

Other point guard options include Mo Williams, Jarrett Jack and Monta Ellis. Acquiring a starting point guard is a must, and it’d be a bonus to get a savvy veteran willing to mentor rookie backups Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel.

The Mavs would like to re-sign Wright, a backup center/power forward who has received interest from the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons. The Early Bird rights would allow Dallas to make a competitive offer – up to the average player salary of more than $5 million per year, if they wanted – for the high-flying backup center/power forward.

The Mavs would still have holes at shooting guard and small forward. They’d prefer to keep Vince Carter as a sixth man, so his minutes can be limited while he provides scoring punch off the pine. Jae Crowder is a candidate to start at small forward, but it’d be ideal to have other options.

The Mavs would have the midlevel exception, bi-annual exception and minimum-salary deals to fill out the roster.

Matt Barnes might not win a popularity contest with Mavs fans, but he’d be a great fit as a gritty, versatile, 3-point threat who could play significant minutes at small forward and spot duty as a small-ball power forward. He was a major bargain as a minimum guy for the Clippers last season, drawing interest from a dozen teams early in free agency. Could the Mavs get him for the $2 million bi-annual exception? A chunk of the midlevel exception? (UPDATE: Barnes is off the board. He announced via Twitter that he will re-sign with the Clippers.)

Another potential bi-annual exception target: Chauncey Billups, whose career took off when he played for coach Rick Carlisle in Detroit. He could be a 16-minute per game starter at shooting guard and still play point guard if needed.

Anthony Morrow didn’t make any impact during his brief tenure in Dallas last season, but Howard’s good buddy would make sense as a low-cost shooter off the bench.

Elton Brand might get better offers elsewhere, but the Mavs are interested in bringing him back as a low-cost bench banger.

Let’s say Howard commits to the Mavs -- and that, of course, is a monstrous assumption -- and the balls keep falling their way in the following days. Here’s how their roster could look in that case:

PG – Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Gal Mekel
SG – Chauncey Billups, Vince Carter, Ricky Ledo, Josh Akognon
SF – Matt Barnes, Jae Crowder, Anthony Morrow
PF – Dirk Nowitzki, Brandan Wright
C – Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, Bernard James
The Mavericks’ search for a starting point guard includes exploring a potential sign-and-trade deal that would send O.J. Mayo to the Los Angeles Clippers and bring Eric Bledsoe to Dallas, sources told ESPNDallas.com.

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Mavericks top draft pick Shane Larkin joins Galloway and Company to discuss his future in Dallas.

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The Clippers, who called Mayo in the early hours of free agency, are aggressively shopping Bledsoe, a dynamically athletic, 23-year-old, three-year veteran who has spent the last two seasons serving as Chris Paul’s apprentice. Bledsoe, an outstanding defender who averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 assists in 20.4 minutes per game last season, is widely seen as being ready for a starting role.

The Mavericks and Clippers have been exchanging concepts on a sign-and-trade headlined by both Mayo and Bledsoe this week, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

“It’s been discussed,” said one source close to the process.

The deal would have to include other pieces because Bledsoe is due to make $2.63 million next season in the final year of his rookie deal, which is likely to be far less than what Mayo will get this summer.

One source said swingman Matt Barnes, a gritty free-agent swingman who averaged 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds off the Clippers’ bench last season, could be part of the deal. The Mavs would first have to convince Barnes to come to Dallas.

Aaron Goodwin, Barnes’ agent, said the Mavs are one of 12 teams that have expressed interest in Barnes during the first day of free agency.

“He knows Mark (Cuban) is going to be able to build a championship team,” Goodwin told ESPNDallas.com. “If the Mavericks are interested, we’re definitely going to listen.”

The Mavs also have interest in Clippers free-agent guard Chauncey Billups. Mayo signed a one-year, $4 million deal with Dallas last summer in part because of the advice of Billups, who credited Carlisle for helping his career take off during their year together in Detroit.

The deal is among the Mavs’ potential contingency plans if they don’t win the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Dallas would have to renounce Mayo’s rights as part of the process of clearing out the cap space to give Howard a max contract.

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 99, Mavericks 93

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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How it happened: Despite a strong third-quarter effort, the Dallas Mavericks ran out of steam Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers continuing their downward spiral with a 99-93 loss to the team with the NBA’s best record.

Point guard Darren Collison led the Mavericks with 22 points, but only five of those came in the second half. He made 7 of 11 shots for 17 points to lead all scorers at halftime.

The Mavs took their first lead of the game, 58-57, on Shawn Marion’s 3-pointer early in the third quarter. They led by as many as 10 following Collison’s 3-pointer with just over two minutes left in the third, but the Clippers finished the quarter on a 7-0 run.

The Clippers stormed back and took a brief lead on Chris Paul’s steal and breakaway layup with 9:05 remaining in the fourth, sparking a comeback that had the sellout crowd jumping.

Shooting guard Vince Carter missed a jump shot that would have cut the deficit to two with under seven seconds remaining.

What it means: The Mavericks are 2-13 (.133) dating to Dec. 2, tying the Washington Wizards for the worst record in the NBA over that stretch. It’s the worst span for Dallas since the 1999-2000 season, which also marks the last season in which the Mavericks missed the playoffs. The Clippers have now won their last three games against the Mavs, their longest winning streak against them since 2006.

Play of the game: There weren’t any of those trademark lobs inside Staples Center but Lamar Odom had an impressive dunk over Chris Kaman in the first half, which probably left Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wondering where that athleticism was last season.

Stat of the night: Matt Barnes tied a season high with five 3-pointers made, helping the Clippers’ bench outscore the Mavericks’ 43-19. He and Paul each had 19 points to lead the Clippers.

No homecomings for Dallas' homegrown?

July, 27, 2012
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Deron Williams was the obvious headliner among Dallas-area products who could potentially come home and play for the Dallas Mavericks next season.

Williams, the three-time All-Star who starred at The Colony High School, chose to remain with the Brooklyn Nets. Still, three other local lads also hit free agency on July 1, plus one former Mavs forward. All remain on the market.

Unfortunately for them, the Mavs have filled their 15-man roster.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle had dinner in New York on July 1 with Skyline High star and Utah Jazz shooting guard C.J. Miles, who is just 25 years old. Dallas showed initial interest in Minnesota Timberwolves big man and Woodrow Wilson product Anthony Randolph, just 23. And the elder statesman of the Dallas group, power forward and Bryan Adams product Kenyon Martin, is still looking for work at 34.

Josh Howard, drafted by the Mavs with the 29th pick in 2003, is also still without a team. He played last season with the Jazz.

Grinding market: Players still available

July, 10, 2012
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After a big-money flurry during free agency's first week, things have slowed down considerably in week two, and those players still left on the market might be looking at lesser deals they didn't think they'd have to take.

With the coming crunch of the new tax penalty, teams are becoming increasingly wary of handing out multiyear contracts. As Dallas Mavericks fan have quickly come to realize, the local plan is to sign up players preferably on one-year deals. Dallas might be able to hand out a higher salary for the one year than a player might be able to make in the first year of a multiyear deal with another team, then setting the player up to become a free agent again in 2013.

That's the type of decision with which a player such as point guard Ramon Sessions is likely to grapple. He wants to start, and the security of a multiyear was initially high on his priority list. The Mavs can offer a starting job, but not the security.

Over the last few days, some players have been taken off the board and others added.

Here's a look at five players at each position who remain on the board. Some are realistic options for the Mavs and some might not be. Dallas, still with just seven players under contract -- plus three draft picks -- needs reinforcements just about everywhere.

Point guard
Ramon Sessions
Raymond Felton
Randy Foye
Leandro Barbosa
C.J. Watson

Shooting guard
Lou Williams
O.J. Mayo
C.J. Miles
Courtney Lee
Marco Belinelli

Small forward
Josh Howard
Sam Young
Anthony Tolliver
Donte Green
Matt Barnes

Power forward
Kenyon Martin
Carl Landry
Anthony Randolph
Jordan Hill
Ronny Turiaf

Center
Chris Kaman
Mehmet Okur
Daniel Orton
Nazr Mohammed
Tony Battie

Rick Carlisle joins new competition committee

May, 16, 2012
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Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is one of three NBA head coaches on the newly restructured competition committee announced by the league Wednesday.

Carlisle, the current president of the NBA Coaches Association, joins Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. Also on the committee are team owners Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Joe Lacob (Golden State Warriors) and general managers Bryan Colangelo (Toronto Raptors), Mitch Kupchak (Los Angeles Lakers), Kevin O’Connor (Utah Jazz) and Sam Presti (Oklahoma City Thunder).

Previously, the committee included the general manager from each of the 30 teams. That committee has been reconstituted as the new general managers committee. The league says it streamlined the competition committee because it wanted broader input on issues that could potentially improve the game.

One issue that could come up when the committee convenes for the first time during the NBA Finals is basket interference situations in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. Mavs owner Mark Cuban requested that the league immediately make such instances eligible for replay review following a late-season loss at the Los Angeles Lakers in which Cuban and Carlisle believe Lakers forward Matt Barnes touched the ball in the cylinder but was not called for offensive goaltending.

The play counted as a 3-point basket for Pau Gasol and could have changed the course of the overtime finish.

Rick Carlisle sees both sides of replay use on interference

April, 16, 2012
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle believes the replay from Sunday's controversial basket interference no-call conclusively shows that Lakers guard Matt Barnes touched Pau Gasol's overtime 3-point shot as the ball swished through the basket.

Had the play been eligible for review under league rules and found to be conclusive, the three points would have been taken off the board and Dallas would have retained a 101-100 lead with 3:49 to go.

Immediately after Sunday's 112-108 loss to the Lakers, Mavs owner Mark Cuban emailed the league and lobbied for a rule change that would make basket interference situations in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime reviewable by replay.

Yet, Carlisle, who is the president of the NBA coaches' association and also serves on the instant replay committee, said he isn't so sure that replay is in the best interest of the game in such situations.

"It’s something that certainly has come up. The problem with it is that frequently even with multiple camera angles you can’t tell if there is goaltend or a basket interference," Carlisle said. "In the case of (Sunday), if you get the right angle it’s pretty obvious that the ball was touched. Sometimes they miss calls and that’s just the way it goes. But going forward, I know this, the league is very proactive in listening to those kind of suggestions. Over the last six years the coaches association has presented a list of possible suggestions each year and in cooporation with the league and the coaches we’ve gotten seven or eight rules altered or tweaked to make the game better.

"I know that going forward it's something that they will certainly consider if it’s the right thing for the game."

Carlisle said disrupting the flow of the game and other factors involving the use of replay is taken into strong consideration when discussing what should and should not be eligible for review.

"Getting the call right is always going to be a priority as long as you don’t have too many variables and too many moving parts," Carlisle said. "If you have to get in situations where you have to stop the clock and then reconstruct the game and go backwards, you can’t do those kinds of things. The league puts a lot of thought into it, the committee talks a lot about those situations. As to whether the benefit outweigh the potential dicey situation.

"But things like (Sunday) are things that polarize the conversation and they get the league talking about it and owners talking about it. Again, I just think, going forward it's something that the league will listen to and consider."

Jason Terry laments last play in overtime

April, 15, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Jason Terry said the Mavericks were playing for a second overtime all the way when he drove the lane, but got caught underneath the basket and his game-winning attempt bounced away.

"Just misread the whole play," Terry said. "You can't do that. I got caught under the basket."

Terry took the inbounds pass from Jason Kidd at the top of the key. A pick got him by Lakers guard Ramon Sessions, but Matt Barnes came with help defense and forced Terry deeper than he wanted to go. Barnes swiped at the ball and Terry's attempt didn't get above the bottom of the backboard.

Terry said there was no foul on the play.

"There was some misfortune there not going strong enough to the basket," Terry said. "Barnes did an excellent job of getting out of the way. I thought he was going to try to take a charge or go for a hard foul and he did neither. Give him credit and I'll take the blame for that one."

Trailing 110-108, the Mavs could have set up a 3-point shot to go for the win.

"It was a pick and roll with Dirk and Terry and we need to make play," coach Rick Carlisle said. "So he drove and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but it didn’t work out, so that’s disappointing."

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 109, Mavs 93

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
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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.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 73, Mavs 70

January, 17, 2012
1/17/12
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LOS ANGELES -- How it happened: Both teams had to feverishly scrap just to make sure they didn't pull off all-time franchise lows for points. Those records -- 70 for the Los Angeles Lakers and 62 for the Dallas Mavericks are safe for now -- but this one was ugly at the start and it only got uglier, including a third quarter that saw a combined 23 points, seven scored by the Lakers.

Ultimately, poor turnovers by the Mavs, one by Dirk Nowitzki and another by Jason Kidd, in the fourth quarter helped to give the Lakers just enough of a burst to go on 10-0 run for a 66-59 lead at around the four-minute mark. Still, with neither team cracking 40 percent shooting, no one was going to run away. Just nibbling back was difficult enough for the Mavs in the final four minutes.

Andrew Bynum made it 70-65 with 2:01 to go, but then Ian Mahinmi got an extra-effort tip-in and Kidd hit one of two free throws after he stripped Matt Barnes and got fouled to make it 70-68.

With a chance to tie, Nowitzki went to his step-back move against Pau Gasol, but Gasol stuck with him and Nowitzki tried to duck under him and traveled. It still wasn't over because Kobe Bryant, just 7-of-22 for 14 points, missed his 15th shot of the game and Jason Terry took an open lane and dropped a floater to tie it at 70 with 9.9 seconds to go.

Kobe time right? Wrong. Bryant, who entered the game with four consecutive 40-point performances, got the inbounds pass and deferred, passing over to Derek Fisher on the wing, who softly dropped a high floater from 3-point range with 3.1 seconds to go. Vince Carter missed a last-gasp 3.

The Lakers scored seven points in the third quarter, a franchise-low for a Mavs opponent in a quarter, but the Mavs could build a five-point lead, 61-56, and never led by more than six. L.A. never led by more than seven and shot 38.2 percent, just bettering the Mavs' awful 35 percent.

Nowitzki led all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Lamar Odom, in his return to L.A., got off to a hot start, hitting his first two shots and finishing with seven points in the first quarter. But he finished 4-of-12 for 10 points.

Bynum had the best stats in a game that was a statistical horror story. He had 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds.

What it means: Dallas’ five-game win streak went down the grinder as the Mavs fell to 8-6. Now they’ll have a day to work on their shooting before returning to Staples Center on Wednesday night to face L.A.’s newest glamour team, the Clippers, although Chris Paul’s status is in doubt due to a hamstring injury.

Play of the game: After stripping Bryant just past midcourt, Shawn Marion quickly dribbled upcourt along the right wing and fed a beautiful behind-the-back pass to trailing Dirk Nowitzki down the lane for a two-handed dunk that cut the Lakers’ lead to 43-42 at the 8:51 mark of the third quarter. Kidd followed with his first made jumper after an 0-of-6 first half for a 44-43 lead.

Stat of the day: The Lakers, who were awful from beyond the 3-point line in the playoffs against the Mavs, missed their first nine attempts put up by five players. Fisher ended the shutout with the game-winning 3 with 3.1 seconds to go. The Mavs, who were amazing from 3-point land in the second-round sweep, were awful Monday, making just 4-of-26 with Kidd going 0-of-8.

Stephen Jackson: 'Dallas sucks to me'

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
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Matt Barnes apparently didn’t pass on the message to his former Golden State Warriors teammates. Or news just travels especially slowly to Stephen Jackson.

While entertaining the Milwaukee media as the Bucks began training camp, Jackson asked who won the NBA championship last season, noting that he didn’t watch the playoffs. Informed that the Mavs beat the Heat, he responded with a classic Wacko Jacko line.

“Dallas sucks to me,” Jackson said, according to the Bucksetball blog.

Well, it sure is tough to argue with well thought-out logic like that.

Those guys from the 2007 Golden State team seem to hold a pretty strong grudge despite pulling off the rare 8 vs. 1 upset.

Remember Barnes’ Twitter boast about those Warriors establishing the punk-'em blueprint to beat the Mavs? Funny, we didn’t hear much about that while Barnes mostly watched from the L.A. bench as the Mavs swept the Lakers in last season’s West semifinals.

The Mavs will get a chance to prove to Jackson that they don’t suck when the Bucks visit the AAC on Jan. 13.
Matt Barnes, the man who boasted about having the punk-‘em blueprint for beating the Mavericks, better back up his words.

If not, the Lakers will likely be looking at a 3-0 deficit.

Barnes will probably replace suspended small forward Ron Artest in the Lakers’ starting lineup for Game 3. At the least, Artest’s absence ensures that Barnes’ minutes will increase significantly.

Barnes, who played a significant role during the 2007 Warriors’ upset of the 67-win Mavs, has been a nonfactor so far this series. “The Charminator,” as Jason Terry calls Barnes, has four points on 2-of-8 shooting in 26 minutes and hasn’t made an impact defensively. He’s been part of a Lakers bench that has been completely outplayed by the Mavs counterparts.

Now, the Lakers need Barnes to play like he did in the first round four years ago. It's put up or shut up time for the self-proclaimed punker.

Breaking down Lakers-Mavs, L.A. view

May, 1, 2011
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A five-point preview of the Mavericks-Lakers series from a Los Angeles perspective:

BIGGEST STRENGTH

[+] EnlargeAndrew Bynum and Lamar Odom
Kirby Lee/US PresswireBig men Lamar Odom (left) and Andrew Bynum are imposing defensive forces for the Lakers.
Defense. Yes, the Lakers' collective size can be imposing, but only when they're committed towards maximizing it, which isn't always the case. And yes, that Kobe Bryant fella is very handy to have around and the Mavs aren't overflowing with options to guard him, but his ankle may still be problematic and there will inevitably be games where shots don't fall.

But at the end of the day, the Lakers can -- and often do -- count on their defense when all else fails. Andrew Bynum patrols the lane like no other big not named "Dwight." Ron Artest is uniquely capable of changing the tenor of games with his defense. Kobe, when dialed in, is a viciously competitive defender. Lamar Odom's (and to a lesser degree, Pau Gasol's) D is very underrated. Steve Blake and Matt Barnes can be pests. And Derek Fisher finds way to have a couple of great defensive games each series.

These individuals often forge a smothering collective, and the Lakers ultimately hang their hats on this asset.

BIGGEST WEAKNESS

Outside shooting. The Lakers were a dismal 37.5 percent on shots 16-23 feet out (26th-NBA), and tied for 17th behind the arc (35.2 percent). They've been better in the playoffs from downtown (36.7 percent), but that's hardly shooting the lights out. In the meantime, the Mavs play a lot of zone, which specifically dares opponents to launch long jumpers. The Lakers typically handle this temptation like Lindsay Lohan at an open bar.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

MOST IMPORTANT MATCHUP

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The benches. Bynum, Gasol and Odom can hold their own against Tyson Chandler and Dirk. Jason Kidd's numbers may end up a little more prolific, but him vs. Fisher is more or less a wash. Artest had a terrific series against New Orleans and should continue exploiting his size against Dallas, particularly if Shawn Marion has to defend Kobe (who has traditionally roasted Dallas).

However, with the starters taking a breather, things might get hairy.

Talent-wise, the best player among reserves on either team is Odom. However, Jason Terry is the best pure scorer among subs, and the Mavs are probably more talented overall. Barnes (dealing with knee issues) Blake and Shannon Brown have been inconsistent all season, which has bled into the playoffs. They finished the Hornets series on a strong note, so perhaps momentum can carry into the semis. Unfortunately, they can likely be counted on occasionally undo whatever leads the starters build.

PLAYER TO WATCH

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesPau Gasol has been inconsistent for the Lakers, but he plays an important role for the defending champs.
Pau Gasol spent much of the Hornets series as the designated whipping boy and unfortunately, the criticism was largely warranted. Gasol allowed Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry and Aaron Gray to push him off spots, and instead of putting the ball on the floor and forcing them to check him, Pau perpetually settled for jumpers. Throw in the spotty rebounding and erratic defense, and El Spaniard's first four games were largely miserable.

Of course, Games 5 and 6 were quality efforts and Pau won't likely encounter nearly the same physicality against Dallas/Dirk. Were I betting man, I'd lay cash on a good series. Still, it's been Pau's most inconsistent season as a Laker and the dips have surfaced at inexplicable times. For the time being, I think it's safe to say all eyes remain fixed in his direction.

TO WIN THE SERIES, LAKERS MUST ...

Be themselves, to be honest. I don't mean this to sound dismissive towards the Mavericks, without question a quality team. My official prediction is "Lakers in 6," but my second choice would be "7" over "5." They could absolutely test the Lakers. But at the end of the day, the Lakers are the better, bigger, more experienced team and Dallas matches up badly against them. Assuming the Lakers play to their strengths, unless Dirk has an epic series, I don't see the Mavs pulling the upset, especially without home court advantage.

Read the Dallas perspective here.

Dirk: 'We've got to keep our composure'

April, 30, 2011
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DALLAS – What did the Mavericks learn from their last trip to Los Angeles?

“We’ve just got to keep our composure, especially at their place,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “That’s really it.”

That definitely didn’t happen in the lopsided loss to the Lakers at the end of March. The Lakers were in the process of putting away the Mavs early in the fourth quarter when Jason Terry melted down, shoving Steve Blake in the back to spark a brouhaha that resulted in four players being ejected.

In Terry’s defense, he had attended his aunt’s funeral two days earlier. That trip was the beginning of an extremely difficult time in Terry’s personal life, resulting in a run of bizarre behavior.

Entering the playoffs, Terry said he was in a good place spiritually. He followed that up with his best postseason series since the 2006 Finals run, averaging 17.3 points on 49 percent shooting and playing hard defensively against the bigger Blazers guards.

Terry can’t afford to let the Lakers get to him emotionally. And that will be quite a challenge, considering the mutual hatred he has with Matt Barnes, whom Terry referred to as “The Charminator” the day after they were both ejected. Barnes, a professional antagonist, responded with a pretty good Twitter rant about how his 2007 Warriors showed the world how to beat the Mavs.

"PUNK'EM," Barnes wrote.

Dirk’s message to his Mavs teammates: Don’t let LA punk us.

“We’ve just got to stay calm,” Nowitzki said. “They’re going to play us physical. Just try to work. We’ve got to stay together, especially on the road. There will always be some adversity in a playoff game, especially on the road, and we’ve got to stick together. We can’t lose our composure like we did the last game in the regular season there.”

Top 6th men star in intriguing bench battle

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
11:03
AM CT
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom won the award Jason Terry vowed to reclaim. Now the Dallas Mavericks' top reserve has the chance to show who the most valuable sixth man really is in a battle of the benches that includes some juicy subplots.

Odom ran away with Sixth Man of the Year voting after averaging 14.4 points on 53 percent shooting, plus 8.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Terry, the 2008-09 winner, finished a distant second after averaging 15.8 points and 4.1 assists.

In the first-round series, Terry averaged 17.3 points in 33.2 minutes -- 21.0 points in the final four games -- to lead a four-man bench that includes point guard J.J. Barea (5.2 ppg, 2.5 apg), forward Peja Stojakovic (9.5) and 7-foot center Brendan Haywood (2.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg). The reserves averaged a heady 34.5 points in the six games and outscored the Portland Trail Blazers' bench 207-125.

"I thought Terry's scoring was absolutely essential to us," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "But, he defended well and his floor game was good."

Odom averaged 12.0 points in six games against the New Orleans Hornets, and despite seeing his playing time drop by more than three minutes from the regular season, his scoring still doubled that of the next closest reserve, guard Shannon Brown (5.8). Phil Jackson has used a four-man bench that averaged 23.7 points against the Hornets -- but is not needed to provide as much scoring boost as the Mavs' bench -- and also includes pesky guard Steve Blake (2.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) and agitating forward Matt Barnes (3.8, both of whom might have a bone to pick with the Jet.

In the last meeting in Los Angeles on March 31, a 110-82 Lakers romp that at the time seemed like a statement victory with the teams on a collision course for the second round, Terry shoved Blake and drew a flagrant foul and was ejected. Barnes then got in Terry's face and was also tossed. Haywood was close to the fray and he got the hook, although it's still not clear what prompted his ejection.

The next day th e incident evolved into an entertaining war of words with Terry going on a national ESPN Radio talk show and unflatteringly referred to the heavily tattooed Barnes as "The Charminator."

"That is a guy who is as soft as Charmin toilet paper," Terry explained.

Barnes then took to his Twitter feed and fired back, reminding folks of the Warriors' first-round upset of the Mavs in 2007: "Me & the Golden St homies laid out the blueprint on how to beat Dallas.. "PUNK'EM" Aint [expletive] changed homey.. So enough w/the small talk"

Aside from the obvious shenanigans that could be coming with some colorful personalities, the more subdued Haywood will play perhaps the most critical bench role outside of Terry. Just as he helped starting center Tyson Chandler keep a fresh, big body on LaMarcus Aldridge, which certainly seemed to grind on the Seagoville product over the six games, Haywood will have to provide solid defense and rebounding against the Lakers' 7-foot front line of forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum, as well as the 6-10 Odom.

"This team was built on the matchup against the Lakers," Terry said. "Obviously, they're the barometer. They set the bar and we're a team that's the underdog, obviously, in that series. Nobody's going to pick us to win, but it's going to be fun."

To say the least.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Nowitzki 6.2
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9