Dallas Mavericks: Ron Artest

J.J. Barea is getting job done in big way

May, 9, 2011
5/09/11
4:00
PM CT
DALLAS -- J.J. Barea continues to be such a pest at both ends of the floor that he's still inducing forearm shivers out of frustration. Andrew Bynum took it to a mid-air collision danger level in Game 4, and Ron Artest specialized in the clothesline face-rake at the end of Game 2.

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Why's everybody always got to pick on the little guy?

"It happens," Barea said after Sunday's Game 4 romp that eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs and launched the Mavs into the Western Conference final. "I'm the guy that takes it in there. It happens sometimes in basketball. You've just got to be ready for it."

Teams now know they better be ready to deal with the diminutive Barea. The backup point guard has taken a lot of heat over the years from the home fans who become frustrated some of Barea's dribbling exploits, but there's no denying that Barea's ability to play the pick-and-roll and get to the rim is invaluable to his team.

He dismantled the Lakers in the second-round sweep. He dominated the fourth quarter of Game 2 with eight points and a pair of assists to break that game open and he scored a career playoff-high 22 points in Game 4.

"Awesome," Barea said. "I just wanted to give it all to my teammates to get a win so I made sure I came off the bench with a lot of energy. The pick-and-rolls were working and we were running them a lot."

Barea is averaging 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.8 minutes a game behind Jason Kidd, and he's kept his turnovers down, just 1.1 a game. Against the Lakers, Barea was superb, averaging 11.5 points on 17-of-34 shooting and 5.5 assists. He was so frustrating to the Lakers that they took two cheap shots on him.

The Artest flagrant foul in Game 2 got him suspended for Game 3 and Bynum's shot drew harsh criticism as a classless act from Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

"J.J. really had a great series," Dirk Nowitzki said. "I think he had some problems in the Portland series because they were so big and physical with him...He was phenomenal attacking [the Lakers]. He was great in the fourth quarter, really won us the game in Game 2. Same thing [in Game 4]. He came in and I think we ran like 10 or 11 possessions in a row of pick-and-roll because they were having trouble guarding him and he was getting in the lane."

Barea finished with eight assists to go with 22 points. Since Game 6 of the first round, Barea has racked up 26 assists and no fewer than four in each of those five games.

In his fifth season since the Mavs signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Northeastern, the Puerto Rico native has emerged as very capable backup on a title-contending team.

"He's also improved," Nowitzki said. "I remember days when he got in there [the lane], got airborne and then trying to look for something. I saw him got in there [against the Lakers in Game 4], had nothing [in the lane], dribbled back out, attacked again, run the pick-and-roll, and went back in there [and scored]. He looked poised out there and he ran the show, so I was real proud of him."

Rick Carlisle expects best from Ron Artest

May, 8, 2011
5/08/11
1:48
PM CT
DALLAS -- The Lakers will again be at full strength for Sunday afternoon's Game 4 with the return of starting small forward Ron Artest from a one-game suspension.

Not that having Artest on the floor has been a positive for L.A. He's been awful, averaging 6.5 points on 27.8 percent shooting in the first two games. What's that, rebounds is his game, you say? He's averaged 4.5 in the series. Defense? Well, OK, he's got three steals and four blocked shots.

Still, Artest is always capable of hitting a key 3-pointer in the corner or picking off a pass at just the right time. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who coached Artest in Indiana and during the "Malice in the Palace" debacle, expects Artest to bring it this afternoon.

"He's always played well after being suspended," Carlisle said. "It's true. It's true. It's not a joke. It's true, he always has, or a disciplinary-type thing. He'll be focused."

Artest was suspended for Game 3 after clotheslining J.J. Barea at the end of Game 2.

A clean sweep would sure help Kidd's legs

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
9:49
AM CT


DALLAS -- Here's Shawn Marion's description of what Jason Kidd means to the team:

"What does he mean? The snake, that’s the head of the snake. Do I need to say more? He’s our floor general out there. He’s making everything happen on the floor and man, doing a great job doing it."

OK, so it sounds like Kidd is pretty important to the overall process for the Mavericks to find success. And everyone knows that a snake needs legs, er, something like that.

Kidd definitely needs his legs and the upcoming playoff schedule will challenge the 38-year-old, who continues to say that he is as healthy and as rested as he's been in his four postseasons with Dallas. Tonight's Game 3 at the American Airlines Center will be the third game in five nights and Game 4 follows quickly at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has done a good job limiting Kidd's minutes. He's averaging 34.4 minutes a game, a very manageable number. Kidd exerted extra energy in Game 2 with a substantial amount of defensive time focused on Kobe Bryant, who also spent more time guarding Kidd.

"It’s a little bit too much," Kidd said, laughing, about going toe-to-toe with Bryant. "I know why he’s guarding me -- to rest. But, you know, he’s a competitor and I’m trying to help my team; whatever I can do to make it tough on him."

Kidd's Kobe responsibility could be lessened in tonight's game because of the one-game suspension issued to Ron Artest for his face-rake of J.J. Barea. It could allow the 6-foot-7 Shawn Marion to handle more of Kobe.

Even if Carlisle opts to keep Kidd chasing Kobe more, as long as the Barea can continue to provide solid minutes as the backup, Carlisle can likely keep Kidd's minutes between 34 and 36 minutes.

And with a potential Game 5 coming up on Tuesday in L.A., which would make five games in nine nights, not an easy task.

In a similar turnaround in the first round against the Trail Blazers with Game 4 being an afternoon game after one day's rest -- and Games 3 and 4 were in Portland -- Kidd combined for 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting (5-of-13 from 3-point range) and seven assists.

Kidd continues to say he feels fine. He'll feel even better if he doesn't have to make a return trip to La-La Land.

Dirk Nowitzki finds shot, dominates L.A.

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
8:22
AM CT

DALLAS -- Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is proving to be a more effective defender against Dirk Nowitzki's nearly indefensible array of fallaways and step-backs than the Los Angeles Lakers tandem of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and even Ron Artest at times.

Gasol certainly isn't having an easy go of things against his fellow 7-foot Euro. The Lakers forward hasn't come close to containing Nowitzki, who is shooting 52.6 percent (60.0 percent from 3-point range) against L.A. compared to 45.2 percent against the Blazers. Nowtizki's scoring average was actually a tick higher against the Blazers (27.3 to 26.0) because he got to the free throw line with greater frequency than in the first two games against L.A.

Nowitzki has attempted just 10 free throws in Games 1 and 2. He took 11 in Game 6 against Portland and 63 in the series.

Part of the reason for Nowitzki's low free throw total is simply that his shot is going down with regularity in this surprising second-round series that has the Dallas Mavericks seeking a commanding 3-0 lead tonight at the American Airlines Center.

"I'm feeling in a good rhythm. I didn't really shoot the ball well in the whole first series, but I have a good shooting rhythm right now," said Nowitzki, who shot a career-best 51.7 percent during the regular season. "I just have to keep attacking for this team and understand whoever is on me, I still got to make some moves and make some stuff happen."

Nowitzki's fallaways and step-backs have been particularly devastating. He's silenced the Staples Center crowd on several occasions, most notably with a turnaround fallaway against Gasol for an and-1 in the fourth quarter of Game 2. And he's almost unguardable when he's nailing 3-pointers. Nowitzki has made 3 of 5 against L.A., draining them both in transition and in the half-court set.

"I mean, it's tough. He hits shots," the 6-10 Odom said. "There was a span in that game where he didn't shoot the ball as much, I think towards the end of the third, start of the fourth, and that was probably our chance to close in on the gap and we weren't able to."

At the other end, Nowitzki has fared much better defending the crafty Gasol, who can hit the mid-range jumper, but also boasts a low-post game. Gasol has not shot well in either round and has actually increased his shooting percentage from 41.8 against the New Orleans Hornets to 45.5 against Dallas, still well below his season average of 52.9.

"With Pau, I'm just trying to battle. He's so long in there," Nowitzki said. "You've got to attack him on the defensive end and try to take his legs away on the offensive end."

J.J. Barea OK with Artest's suspension

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
4:36
PM CT
As far as J.J. Barea is concerned, justice has been served.

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Ron Artest released his frustration in the final minute of the Lakers' Game 2 loss to the Mavericks by smacking Barea in the face. That cost Artest a one-game suspension, and Barea believes the punishment fit the crime.

"I think one game is fine," Barea said during an appearance on ESPN 103.3's Galloway and Company. "The league didn’t like that it was to the face and it was after the play was called. That’s never going to be good with the league. They’re making a point and he was suspended for one game."

The face loved by former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, Barea's girlfriend, is fine.

"I'm doing good," Barea said. "I've been hit harder than that before."
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.


LOS ANGELES – It’s almost as shocking as the Dallas Mavericks seizing a 2-0 series lead against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center.

Mark Cuban, the Mavericks’ often loud-mouthed owner, came and left L.A. without uttering a single juicy quote.

[+] EnlargeMark Cuban
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesAside from Shawn Marion's head, owner Mark Cuban doesn't want to stir up anything that might detract from the Mavericks' best playoff performance since their 2006 NBA Finals run.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on the media’s part. Hordes of reporters surrounded Cuban courtside before both games, firing question after question. Cuban, who has verbally sparred with Lakers coach Phil Jackson and small forward Ron Artest in the recent past, continuously avoided any inquiry that had even a hint of controversy.

“Both teams played hard,” Cuban said with a smirk several times, borrowing the creative version of no comment that Rasheed Wallace famously used during a 2003 Portland-Dallas playoff series.

Cuban acknowledges that he is intentionally avoiding saying anything that would end up in the headlines. He doesn’t want to stir it up with the Mavericks performing the best they have in the playoffs since their 2006 Finals run.

“You’ve got to pick your spots,” Cuban said. “There’s ways to make the media work for you. You’ve got to be strategic about it.”

Part of Cuban’s media strategy after the Mavs’ convincing Game 2 win was to politely decline interview requests.

“Gotta get two more wins,” Cuban said. “Gotta get two more wins.”

Dirk Nowitzki abuses Ron Artest

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
9:00
AM CT


LOS ANGELES – Lakers coach Phil Jackson was asked before Game 2 whether Ron Artest might be the answer to riddle that is defending Dirk Nowitzki.

We got the answer in the final few minutes of the first half: Absolutely not.

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Nowitzki overruled the play call as soon as he saw Artest was defending him. Then Dirk went to work on the block.

"I saw Artest was on me and I just pushed [Jason Terry] out and said let me take care of this matchup on the low post,” Nowitzki said. “I felt like I could shoot over him.”

He was right. The 7-footer hit a couple of turnaround jumpers over the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Artest. He knocked down a couple of free throws when Artest was whistled for a foul after trying to wrestle Nowitzki off the block. When the Lakers helped Artest with a double-team, Nowitzki spotted Shawn Marion slashing to the hoop and hit him for an and-1 layup.

Just like that, Nowitzki accounted for nine points on four possessions, all post-ups. That gave the Mavs the lead for good.

It also crushed any belief that Artest, a former Defensive Player of the Year, could man up against the Mavericks’ MVP. That’s a mismatch the Mavs will attack if Artest takes another turn on Dirk.


LOS ANGELES -- On a floor full of superstars and All-Stars, J.J. Barea stole the show in the fourth quarter and sealed the Mavericks' Game 2 victory with an array of drives and stellar finishes.

He outscored Kobe Bryant, 8-5, in the final quarter and out-assisted Jason Kidd. He took more free throws than Dirk Nowitzki and even added a rebound. For the game he had 12 points to lead the Mavs' bench and four assists.

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"Really, I don't think they had him on the scouting report there in the fourth," Nowitzki said. "He kept attacking off the pick-and-roll. We had good ball movement and that means they have to constantly close out and J.J. was able to attack their bigs off the dribble off the screen-and-roll and got to the basket a couple of times. He was spectacular and really won us the game in the fourth."

Barea, listed at 6-foot, but honestly a couple 0f inches shorter, shredded Lakers guards Steve Blake and Shannon Brown.

With the Mavs starting the fourth quarter leading 68-62, Barea blasted through the lane, missed the layup, but his penetration left Brendan Haywood clear for the tip in, 70-62. Barea busted through the paint again and kicked out to a wide-open Jason Terry, who buried a 3-pointer, 73-64. And then Barea did it again and drew the foul. He knocked down both free throws and it was 75-65 with 9:46 to play.

Still in the game nearing the midway point of the quarter, Barea drove, the defense collapsed and he hit a wide-open Haywood on the baseline for a rare tomahawk jam from the big fellow, 79-69.

"The smallest man on the court probably has the biggest heart on the court," Haywood said. "He's not afraid to take it into the giants."

On yet another drive, Barea again found Haywood, who dropped it back to Jason Kidd, who buried the 3, 82-69.

And then came the dagger. Barea whirred past Brown and found himself virtually alone in the paint and he finished it off with a finger roll, 84-69 with 4:39 to go.

"That's how I play. I love to attack the paint," Barea said. "I got all the shooters out there and I've got two big guys setting great screens for me."

Barea's razzle-dazzle finally popped the Lakers' top in the final 30 seconds when Lamar Odom and Ron Artest were all over him in the backcourt. Odom fouled Barea and then Artest stuck out his arm and clotheslined Barea across the face, drawing a technical foul -- his second of the game -- and a possible suspension for Game 3.

Barea didn't have a good first-round series driving into Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge. He averaged 5.2 points and shot 32.4 percent. In two games against the Lakers he's averaging 10.o points and dropping shots at 46.7 percent. It helps when most are coming from 3-feet and in.

"I came out with a lot energy. I knew we needed it," Barea said. "We did a great job defensively all game, so I think a little spark by me helped us get the win."

J.J. Barea: League will make call on Artest

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
1:24
AM CT
LOS ANGELES -- J.J. Barea thinks the league office will find Ron Artest's hand rake across his face with 24.4 seconds to play interesting viewing.

"I think the league will take a look at it and we'll see what happens," Barea said after the Mavericks' stunning 93-81 Game 2 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2-0 lead in the second-round series. "It's not a basketball play. We'll see what happens."

With the Mavs having run away with the game in the fourth quarter in large part due to Barea's fearless play, accounting for eight of his 12 points in the quarter, Lakers forward Lamar Odom fouled Barea in the backcourt. Artest then reached out with his right arm and grabbed Barea's face, knocking the backup point guard to the floor.

Artest was hit with a technical, his second of the game, sending him to the showers with an automatic ejection. An elbow to Tyson Chandler late in the second quarter earned Artest the first technical.

The ugly play on Barea, however, could earn the Lakers' starting small forward, who is just 5-of-18 from the floor in the two games, a suspension for Game 3 on Friday night in Dallas.

Barea said he won't play the role of judge and jury.

"I'm not going to get all into that," Barea said. "I'll let the league decide that."

Barea's not the only one thinking Artest likely deserves to sit a game.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson called the face-grab "uncalled for" and thinks there's a good chance Artest will be suspsended.

Jason Terry's blunder hurt, but not fatal

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
9:03
AM CT


LOS ANGELES -- If Jason Terry was fazed by his alarmingly mindless foul on Lamar Odom's halfcourt heave with 0.7 seconds left in the half, he certainly wasn't saying so after the Dallas Mavericks' 96-94 comeback victory in Game 1.

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"No, not at all," said Terry, who had a terrific first half with 13 of his 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting before the mishap. "Things happen throughout a game. We're a veteran team. That didn't really shake us or frazzle us. Again, we're tough."

At the time it certainly seemed as if it had the potential to sink the Mavs heading into halftime. Dallas led 38-33 with 5:38 to go in the second quarter and the Lakers started to make a run. L.A. seized the lead with a 20-6 finish, including 14-2 in final 2:30. The two came when Dirk Nowitzki scored with three seconds left in the half to pull Dallas within five points.

Then came Terry's brain freeze. Odom dribbled up the sideline and as he started to heave a buzzer beater from around midcourt, Terry chopped him, no doubt about it. Odom went to the line, hit all three and suddenly the Lakers' lead was eight. But, the damage wasn't complete. After the third free throw, Dirk Nowitzki jabbed an elbow at Ron Artest as the two locked up along the key.

Nowitzki got hit with a technical and Kobe Bryant made the free throw. It gave the Lakers a four-point play and a nine-point lead with virtually no time left on the clock.

"The last three seconds of the first half are things that may never happen to this team again, ever," Carlisle said. "And so we need to forget about that...It should've been a five-point game, but it wasn't."

The Mavs did recover. It took a poor start to the third quarter and a 60-44 deficit for Dallas to to wake up, but it buckled down defensively in the fourth quarter and held L.A. to 16 points to steal the win.

Nowitzki said the Game 1 win is nice, but he noted that the Lakers also dropped Game 1 to the New Orleans Hornets in the first round and won the series in six games. Nowitzki, though, knows what the Mavs can't do if they hope to take a 2-0 lead back to Dallas.

"We know in Game 2 we've just got to be careful," Nowitzki said. "We can't make any dumb mistakes like that."

Of course, in terms of the final 0.7 seconds, he could be talking about himself as much as Terry.

Corey Brewer helps lift Mavs from 'dire' straits

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
1:43
AM CT

LOS ANGELES -- Corey Brewer found out he'd be active for Game 1 after the team shootaround Monday morning. He had no idea if he'd play or what the circumstances would be if he was called upon.

He never imagined 60-44 Lakers and the game quickly slipping away with about 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.

"I just hoped I'd have a chance to get in," Brewer said. "He put me in the game and said, 'Let's go.' I just tried to bring some energy and get our team going."

By the time Brewer's lone, eight-minute, 21-second stint ended -- doubling his entire playing time of the previous series -- the Mavs trailed by just five, 71-66, and Brewer had contributed five points, including a corner 3-pointer, an assist that ended in a Tyson Chandler slam, a steal, a rebound and an entirely new outlook on the game.

"I thought Brewer came in, really changed the game for us," Dirk Nowitzki said.

Entering Game 1, Carlisle had to decide to activate Brewer or Rodrigue Beaubois. It was Brewer who did not dress in Game 6 at Portland, but against the Lakers' size with Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest, Carlisle opted for his 6-foot-9 energizer.

"We needed energy. We needed enthusiasm," Carlisle said. "Ever since we got Brewer, he's come into practice every day with a phenomenal attitude. He has worked to get better and has gotten better. He had opportunities to go to other teams for more money and as good a winning situation as ours was. You're talking about a kid who won two national championships in a row, so he knows about big games.

"We got in a dire situation and he went in there and made some good things happen for us."

At halftime, Jason Terry, who made the boneheaded play of fouling Lamar Odom on a halfcourt heave with less than a second to go that put the Mavs down nine, told Brewer to be ready to play.

Brewer said the confidence shown by the veteran Terry fired him up.

"It shows that the guys are counting on you," Brewer said. "It shows they want me to go in and do good for the team. When a guy like Jet tells me to be ready, it means a lot. I just wanted to help the team any way I can."

About the only thing that didn't go so well for Brewer was having to guard the red-hot Bryant, who scored 15 of his 36 points in the third quarter, including 10 in a row. Bryant sized up Brewer on several occasions and buried jumpers over him.

"It's tough, man, especially when he's got it going and he had it going already," Brewer said. "You just try to make it tough, but he made some tough shots."

Inside Skinny: Chasing Kobe Bryant

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
7:42
AM CT
The Lakers are the two-time defending champs because they have an abundance of stars, they’re huge along the frontline, they can play smothering defense, and they have one of the most prodigious scorers of the last 30 years. They can do it all.

It’s frightening to watch how aggressively Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest can play defense on the perimeter knowing they have a couple of trees behind them eating up space.

The impact a healthy Andrew Bynum has had on the Lakers team defense has led many to call him the most important or indispensable Laker. And while I appreciate his importance, you’re nuts if you think a backcourt of Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown gets you very far in the NBA regardless of who’s on the floor with them.

Yes, Bynum is tough when he gets deep paint touches ad he kills you on the offensive glass and he shrinks the paint defensively. But being able to challenge Kobe is still a huge ordeal. And since the Mavericks don’t really have anybody that forces Kobe to put in work on the defensive end, it’s going to be big for three key guys to make life as difficult as possible on Bryant.

DeShawn Stevenson: He’s been a part of two big home wins against the Lakers the last two seasons in which he got the start and Caron Butler was unable to go -- a closer representation of this particular Mavs team. Of the three games Dallas and LA has played this season, Stevenson only paid a role in Dallas' lone victory. He’ll start on Bryant and his sole purpose will be to get after him junkyard dog style. If both players stay within their average minutes of the first round, that means Bryant will have a little over 20 minutes in which he’s not checked by Stevenson. DeShawn has got to make the game as difficult as possible on Bryant, but the good news is that he’s had success in that regard in a Mavs uniform before.

Shawn Marion: He had a couple of 20-plus point games against LA this season but his most important role will be on the glass and as a defender. You’d like to rely on Marion in a heavier minute role on Kobe, but he’s also extremely valuable checking both Artest and Lamar Odom (arguably the toughest matchup for Dallas). He’ll get a lot of minutes on Bryant, but it’s very possible that the presence of Odom late in games forces Dallas to go with ...

Jason Kidd: The veteran has had some solid stretches against Bryant in the past, but it’s way less than ideal. And if Jason Terry is on the floor late in games for his offense (especially if he continues to play the way he did against the Blazers), then Kidd will find himself in the position of having to check Bryant. We saw the importance of fresh legs with J-Kidd in Round 1. If he’s forced to cover Kobe late, then making sure he’s got plenty left for late will be of paramount importance.

Zone: Though the Lakers aren’t a great 3-point shooting team (ranking 18th in percentage), they’re tough to zone because they have so many talented, highly skilled bigs capable of collapsing the defense by flashing to the high post. Odom and Pau Gasol are both really strong in this regard. The Lakers can also kill you on the offensive glass, making a zone difficult as well. I’m sure we’ll see some zone, but it’ll be interesting to see how patient the Mavericks are with it when you consider the different ways in which LA can exploit it.

Breaking down Lakers-Mavs, L.A. view

May, 1, 2011
5/01/11
10:00
AM CT
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.

Double-duty work for Dirk will be key

May, 1, 2011
5/01/11
8:30
AM CT
DALLAS -- Starting Monday night at Staples Center Dirk Nowitzki goes on double duty.

He'll need to be a superstar offensively, but half his energy will be used on the defensive end. That wasn't the case in the first round when Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge could be shuffled off to centers Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood. Nowitzki, meanwhile, had the less hectic task of defending light-scoring Blazers center Marcus Camby.

Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Nowitzki will butt heads with fellow 7-foot Euro power forward Pau Gasol, a crafty scorer from multiple areas on the floor.

"I always try to work and help out on the defensive end, but obviously if there is only one great scorer, we’d love to have Tyson or Wood on him," Nowitzki said. "But, they’re loaded up front and that means I have to play both ends of the floor and rebound the ball against that big lineup with Bynum in there and Gasol."

It doesn't stop there. Sixth Man of the Year, 6-foot-10 forward Lamar Odom, brings the position an entirely new dynamic off the bench. Gasol has averaged 20.3 points on 54.5 percent shooting against the Mavs in three games this season. But, he shot just 41.8 percent in the first round against the New Orleans, who tend be more of physical defensive team.

It will largely be up to Nowitzki, certainly not known as a physically imposing defender, to not allow Gasol to heat up.

"Gasol, obviously, is long. He can work on his mid-range shot, he can go over both hands and he’s a great scorer on the block," Nowitzki said. "And then when Odom comes in at the 4, he can bring the ball up. He really shot the ball well last time we played them there, made two 3s right away at the beginning of the fourth that really put the game out of reach. So yeah, I’ve got to play both ends of the floor this series and I’ve got to be ready."

The same could be said for Gasol, who hasn't exactly received nominations for Defensive Player of the Year -- although his average of 1.6 blocks a game during the regular season and 2.33 in the first round dwarfs any of the Mavs' three front-line 7-footers.

Nowitzki, who will also see Odom and even Ron Artest on him at times, has averaged 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds against the Lakers this season.

Both 7-foot forwards will be difficult to contain, but whichever one makes the other consistently work harder for their points will give their team a distinct advantage as the series progresses.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
20.6 4.7 1.5 33.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.5
AssistsM. Ellis 4.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.5
BlocksB. Wright 1.6