Lakers Preparing For Postseason Payback Vs. Mavs?
One of the most interesting matchups brewing for the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs is the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and 2010 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Coming into tonight’s action, the Mavericks cling to the sixth spot with a 36-28 record – just one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets at 34-28. Meanwhile the Lakers (40-24) currently hang on to the third seed just a half game ahead of the team they share Staples Center with, the Los Angeles Clippers (39-24).
Maintaining each of those seeds is the best-case scenario for both squads as neither has the possibility of moving up any further in the standings with less than a week left in the regular season.
This is not a good scenario for the Dallas Mavericks.
After sweeping the Lakers out of last year’s conference semifinals, Dallas is winless in four games this season against L.A. Granted, three of those losses came by a total of 12 points, but there’s no denying the advantages L.A. possesses in both their personnel and in the intangibles department.
In terms of the intangibles, being swept out of the second round of the playoffs last season was not only a massive disappointment for the Lakers, but also a maddening experience. Kobe Bryant concealed an obvious injury that made him limited in that series, while the Mavericks played some of their best basketball of the season and took advantage by demolishing Los Angeles in four games.
Frustrations boiled over in the form of Lakers center Andrew Bynum delivering a hard foul that earned him an ejection and five game (reduced to four) suspension coming into the season. Former Lakers (and Mavs) forward Lamar Odom also had an altercation with future (and former) teammate Dirk Nowitzki and Los Angeles as a whole had no problem exerting their collective displeasure in that second round.
Judging by the aforementioned 4-0 record against Dallas this season, the Lakers haven’t forgotten the disappointment of last year’s early postseason exit.
“They beat us all four times [this season] and so we’ve got to find a way to beat them,” Mavericks points guard Jason Kidd said. “They’re playing extremely well and they’re talented, so I think it will be interesting. Hopefully [if we meet in the first round] we can get a game on the road there.”
Normally, I’m of the opinion that if you want to finish as the best team in basketball, you’re going to have to go through the best teams anyway, so preferred playoff matchups shouldn’t really matter.
This year is the exception to that ideal with regard to the Mavericks.
If the Mavericks want to have a shot at defending their title this postseason, they’re going to have to avoid the Lakers – even if just in the first round. Along with dealing with the bitter taste left in their mouth from last postseason, the Lakers also have a distinct frontcourt advantage over the current Mavs roster. Last season Dallas had the ability to start Tyson Chandler at the center position. Then, if Chandler got into foul trouble, the Mavs could throw Brendan Haywood at the massive tandem of Bynum and Pau Gasol.
This season has been a different story with Chandler joining the New York Knicks and the Mavericks being forced to rely on Haywood and the talented but inexperienced Ian Mahinmi.
Against Dallas this season, the Lakers’ duo down low has combined to average nearly 37 points, 21.5 rebounds and their plus/minus is a collective +50 on the court. The Mavericks have simply had trouble keeping up with that kind of production in the post.
Dallas doesn’t have the size beyond Haywood to compete with both Bynum and Gasol.
In terms of playoff matchups, Dallas simply matches up and has played the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder better this season. Losing to either the Chicago Bulls tonight or the Atlanta Hawks later this week wouldn’t exactly mean the end of the world if the Mavs fell to seventh or eighth in the Western Conference.
From the Mavs’ perspective, not many people picked Dallas to get past the Lakers in the second round last season and the Mavericks are stocked with a roster full of players with tons of playoff experience.
“Our team is pretty battle tested,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our guys know what this time of year is about… We’re going to need every guy on the roster [to contribute] to play as good as we need to play.”
Mavericks’ forward, and NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Shawn Marion told HOOPSWORLD that the defending champs really don’t care who they face in the first round of the playoffs.
“[We just need to] have that momentum swing going our way,” Marion told HOOPSWORLD. “Just playing well, having a good rhythm and everybody being on the same page – just helping each other.”
Former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry, who called out LeBron James in last year’s NBA Finals and backed it up with excellent play, wasn’t shy about sharing his feelings about teams that may be eager to take on Dallas in the playoffs.
“A lot of teams are hoping and wishing that they can play the Mavericks similar to last year,” Terry told ESPN Dallas writer Jeff Caplan. “They’re going to get what they ask for soon.”
Soon enough, the Mavericks are going to have the opportunity to prove all of the lingering doubts about this team wrong. With proven playoff performers like Nowitzki and Terry on the squad and firing on all cylinders, Dallas is a tough team to beat in a seven-game series.
The real question is the type of production the Mavericks are going to be able to expect from their role players. Guys like Brandan Wright, Rodrigue Beaubois, Delonte West and Mahinmi are going to have to be able to step up like J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Chandler did just a year ago.
If not, it’s going to be a quick first round exit for Dallas – no matter who their opening round opponent ends up being.