JOHN IRELAND BLOG  |  ESPN Los Angeles

Lakers-Mavs playoff series would be a fun one

February 25, 2010, 1:09 AM

By: John Ireland

DALLAS -- After carrying the load for the Lakers on Tuesday night in Memphis, Tenn., Kobe Bryant took a different road Wednesday. Against the Grizzlies, Bryant led the team in scoring, minutes and assists in the first quarter. At the end of one in Dallas, Kobe had no points and had missed all five of his attempted shots.

And the Lakers almost got away with it.

Andrew Bynum loves to play against the Mavericks, and coming into Tuesday's game, he had made 16 of 19 shots in the Lakers' two wins over Dallas. He picked up where he left off, making his first four shots. Ron Artest made five of his first six, and so did Lamar Odom. The end result was a 50-49 halftime lead for the Lakers at a time when Bryant had scored only six points.

The only problem was the Lakers forgot to rebound. Dallas controlled the boards from start to finish, and it cost the Lakers the game. On the season, the Lakers rank second in the NBA in rebounding (Dallas ranks 23rd), but on this night, the Mavs won the battle of the boards 41 to 36. Dallas wasn't only more aggressive when it came to grabbing the loose balls; the Mavs also forced the action inside. Dallas was 23-for-26 from the free throw line, and the Lakers made 15 of 16.

At least one Laker felt those numbers could be attributed to the officials.

"It's hard to win," Bynum said afterward, "when it's five against eight."

Dallas, led by 31 points from Dirk Nowitzki and 30 from Jason Terry, won the game 101-96. Odom had 21 points, and Bryant finished with 20.

Dallas' win meant the teams split their four-game season series. That's significant because the Mavs stand in fourth place in the Western Conference and could be a potential second-round playoff opponent for the Lakers.

Dallas and Los Angeles haven't met in the postseason since 1988. That was a classic series, with the Lakers winning Game 7 at the Forum behind Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Since then, both teams have moved into new facilities, and the Mavericks have changed owners from the colorful Donald Carter to the even more colorful Mark Cuban.

It would be a great series if it happened, and Dallas would have even more firepower than it had Wednesday. Caron Butler, a former Lakers forward, missed the game after he had a negative reaction to some medicine he had taken early in the day. Butler arrived in a trade from Washington last week and should be a tremendous addition to the Mavericks. Since the trade, Dallas has gone 4-1 with Butler in its lineup.

Butler also idolizes Kobe. In a blog written this week by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas, Butler talked about the season he spent as a teammate of Bryant's in 2004-05.

"That was the best thing that ever could have happened for me personally for my career," Butler said. "To play alongside a guy like that, see his preparation and what it takes to get to that level, that's why I was able to be so good in Washington. I took everything I learned from him, being under his wing, and took that to Washington, and it made me very successful."

If the Lakers and Mavericks meet in the playoffs, you can bet Butler and Bryant will spend a lot of time guarding each other, and the battle would be fascinating to watch. Watching Pau Gasol and Odom take on Nowitzki wouldn't be a bad matchup, either.

For now, the regular-season series is over and stands tied at 2. And you can bet the Lakers will spend an extended amount of time working on rebounding before they play Friday against Philadelphia at the Staples Center.

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