In our continuing effort to help get you up to speed ahead of Monday's series opener against the Mavs at Staples, we swapped scouting reports with Jeff Caplan, who covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. (You've already heard from his compadre Tim MacMahon. You can check out our report at ESPNDallas.com and the Mavericks Blog.)
JEFF CAPLAN'S MAVERICKS SCOUTING REPORT
1. Biggest strength: Without question it's Dirk Nowitzki. He has evolved into one of the most strong-willed, clutch players in the game. He emerged as a dominant fourth-quarter performer in the first round against Portland and displayed an arsenal of offensive weaponry, including far more aggressive driving than we've seen. Although he'll be busy on the defensive end against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Lakers haven't found a way to stop Dirk, who averaged 22.0 points and 10.3 rebounds against L.A. this season.
On a team that can't tell you who will be the second-leading scorer from night to night, Dirk will have to play at an MVP level every night. His 27.3 scoring average against Portland, despite shooting only 45.2 percent from the floor, suggests he can.
2. Biggest weakness: The Mavs' small backcourt didn't hurt them as some thought against Portland's bigger guards, especially on the second units, but the Lakers are a whole other story. It all starts with Kobe Bryant. The Mavs don't possess a true shooting guard with size who can defend and score. DeShawn Stevenson, the team's 12th man who became a starter first because of Rodrigue Beaubois' broken foot and then his ineffectiveness, will start out on Bryant; he typically plays only 13-15 minutes. Behind Stevenson is the 6-foot-2 Jason Terry, an offensive force, and Beaubois, plus under-6-foot backup point guard J.J. Barea, who plays the 2 sometimes next to Jason Kidd.
The problem with Kobe then becomes an issue with Ron Artest, because the Mavs' answer to Kobe will be small forward Shawn Marion, which then leaves the 6-4, 210-pound Kidd to wrestle with the 6-7, 260-pound Artest. We saw that movie once, and the Mavs really don't want to see a sequel.
3. Most important matchup: Look to the paint. Mavs president Donnie Nelson claimed the reason for trading for Tyson Chandler in the offseason was to match up against the Lakers. Interestingly, after 23 years of never seeing one another in the playoffs, the Mavs and Lakers hook up in the 7-1 Chandler's first season in Dallas. Chandler's first big issue is to avoid foul trouble, which he couldn't in the first four games against Portland and the series was tied 2-2. He'll tag team with fellow 7-foot center Brendan Haywood and try to contain Andrew Bynum from scoring too easily and grabbing offensive rebounds.
They didn't fare well in three regular-season games as Bynum averaged 16.7 points and 11.7 rebounds. However, the most disturbing number for Dallas is Bynum's shooting percentage -- 70.4 percent, his high against any team this season. And from ESPN Stats & Information comes this nugget: Bynum averaged 9.3 points per game inside of 5 feet against the Mavs this season, his most against any Western Conference opponent.
4. Player to watch: Jason Kidd. He scored 21 points, knocked down five 3s and dished out 10 assists in the Mavs' lone win against the Lakers this season. In the two losses, he combined for 11 points, three 3s and 15 assists. With games coming quickly in this series, every other day until Game 7 if it's necessary, Kidd's endurance will be put to the challenge, especially if he must guard anyone other than Derek Fisher, and depending on who's in when, Kidd might have to take time on Kobe and even Artest. Kidd stirs the drink.
When he's in a flow offensively and has a bounce in step on defense, he can control the pace and get the Mavs in transition, a la the 109-100 win in Dallas on Jan. 19.
5. What must happen to win the series: The Mavs must play flawlessly. They can't have high turnover games as they have done this season. They must move the ball and get everyone involved. They need four and five or more scorers in double figures every game. And Chandler must stay out of foul trouble and stay on the floor for 30 minutes or more a game. Without him on the floor directing the defense and fanning the emotion, Kidd and the Mavs will be on the golf course in less than two weeks.