The Lakers are 2-0 since the All-Star break, and have moved up to ninth place in the Western Conference standings. They are still three games behind the Houston Rockets for that coveted eighth spot, and will have to play near perfect basketball to make that final push for the postseason. The Lakers face the Mavericks in an early Sunday game, where Mark Cuban’s recent comments about the Lakers and Kobe Bryant should act as extra fuel for the team.
Both the Lakers and Mavs are coming off of hard-fought victories on Friday night, and hope to carry that momentum into today’s game. The current season record between these two squads is 1-1, with each team winning on the road. The Lakers have an all-time record of 102-32 against the Mavericks with a 47-20 road record against Dallas. The Mavericks have dropped the last four games against the Lakers at American Airlines Center.
Frontcourt: Dwight Howard should take advantage of his matchup with Bernard James. The rookie out of Florida State is making his eighth consecutive start today against the Lakers, but continues to play limited minutes. He is averaging 4.4 points and 4.6 boards in his last 10 tens, but should be out-skilled by Howard on the court.
Dirk Nowitzki is still the face of the Mavericks, despite his decline in production. However, he can easily have a classic Dirk game, so Earl Clark must stay on him like glue throughout the game. Limiting Dirk from hitting big-time shots that give the Mavs momentum will be critical.
Shawn Marion started off this season rather slow. Despite remaining a consistent contributor, Marion’s averages were down from last season. However, Marion’s game is starting to pick up as of late. In fact, he is averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds on 52.0 percent shooting in the month of February. Marion also leads the team in rebounding (8.1 per game).
Elton Brand has moved back to the bench since Nowitzki’s return. Brand can still provide that needed spark that is sometimes forgotten about of the 33 year old. Brand may be troublesome for the Lakers due to their lack of size in the second unit. Brand is averaging a career low in points (7.6) and consistently grabs rebounds (6.5) per game. Whoever guards Brand must consistently match his physicality and box him out.
Backcourt: The Lakers have done a very solid job at limiting O.J. Mayo’s contribution so far this season. In the two games between these two teams, Kobe Bryant has only allowed Mayo to average 12.5 points, 2.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game. Mayo is leading the Mavericks in points (17.6) and minutes (35.9) per game, and must be forced away from the three-point line, where he is a big threat (40.9 percent).
Thirty-five year old veteran Vince Carter is proving to be a consistent bench player as he has slid into the position of role player over the past few seasons. Carter is performing very well this month, averaging 16.6 points and 4.3 rebounds on 48.1 percent shooting. Overall, Carter is averaging 13.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and must be kept off the three-point line where he is shooting 41.4 percent.
Darren Collison is improving on offense this season, but still struggles on defense at times. This could be a great opportunity for Steve Nash to rebound from his 2-11 shooting performance on Friday night. Collison tends to be sporadic with his shooting accuracy, but is having visible improvements to his passing game. Collison is averaging 12.8 points and a team leading 5.5 assists per game on 46.0 percent shooting.
Keys to Victory:
Play Smart: The Lakers need to take better care of the ball throughout the game. Limiting turnovers will keep Dallas out of transition, where they average 17.2 points per game (third in NBA), and will prevent them from going on spurts, which they tend to do. Taking care of the ball and making the right decisions on offense will increase the offense’s fluidity and will have an impact on the other side of the court because they won’t be thinking about mistakes they made on offense, which could interrupt their focus on defense. The Lakers should aim to keep their total number of turnovers to fewer than 12.
Work Inside Out: I cannot stress enough the impact of working inside out for the Lakers. This point has been showcased over the last two games very well, as Dwight Howard has had two outstanding games against Boston on Wednesday and Portland on Friday. Playing inside out draws the defense in and opens up perimeter players to knock down open shots. After awhile the defense will adjust, and Nash and Kobe will be able to create opportunities for Dwight in the low post. I anticipate Howard to continue his growth as a Laker, especially with his advantage over the Mavs’ frontcourt today.
Team Defense: On Wednesday against Boston, the Lakers’ defense was superb. On Friday against Portland, the Lakers’ defense wasn’t as effective, but they were able to get stops when it counted. Defense is all about team effort, and that is exactly what will be needed in today’s game. Defensive rotations must be timed correctly today, as it will be crucial to prevent Dallas from opening up a man on the perimeter. From the three-point line, the Mavs are shooting 36.8 percent (eighth in NBA) and are posting 101.6 points per game (seventh in NBA).
Los Angeles Lakers (27-29) vs. Dallas Mavericks (25-29)
10:00 AM PST, February 24, 2013
American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Mavericks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Darren Collison
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Bernard James
Key Reservers: SG Vince Carter, PF Elton Brand