After dispatching the New Orleans Hornets last night the Lakers advanced to the second round of the post-season. While it’s no surprise that they are moving on, the fact that it took them six games to eliminate New Orleans did raise some eyebrows in Los Angeles and around the league. The Hornets were a vastly inferior team talent-wise and many expected the Lakers to send them home in four or five games. Whether the extended series will impact their performance in the next round is yet to be seen.
The Dallas Mavericks found themselves in a different scenario headed into the playoffs. Many thought they drew an unfavorable match-up when they locked in a first round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. The pundits criticized Dallas even more when they blew a 23-point second half lead in Game 4 at the Rose Garden. However, the Mavericks responded impressively and won the next two games to eliminate Portland.
This left the Lakers and the Mavericks set to square off in the NBA playoffs for the first time in nearly a quarter century. It will be the first time since the Kobe Bryant/Dirk Nowitzki eras, and has been a long-awaited match-up for both franchises. With Game 1 scheduled to tip off Monday night in Los Angeles it’s time to take a look at the series and analyze which team will have the advantage.
The Lakers and Mavericks met three times during the regular season, and hovered around one another in the standings for most of the year. Dallas won the first meeting between the teams, but Los Angeles won the last two convincingly to take the season series. The last meeting came on March 31, and determined the tie-breaker if the two teams finished the season tied. Los Angeles ran the Mavericks out of the building in a very physical 110-82 victory. The game featured multiple ejections and had a playoff atmosphere around it. It even led Lakers’ reserve forward Matt Barnes to state that he was looking forward to a potential playoff match-up with the Mavericks.
On paper it would appear that the Lakers should be heavily favored to defeat the Mavericks and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the fourth consecutive year. The size and length of the Los Angeles front-court should be too much for the undersized Mavericks. The Lakers’ size becomes even more formidable when you consider the recent play of young Andrew Bynum, who was the best player for Los Angeles in the first round.
The lack of production the Lakers got out of Pau Gasol is also something that probably will not carry over to the second round. The physical play of Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor bothered Gasol in round one, but Dallas doesn’t have the same sort of players to upset Gasol’s rhythm in the post. During the three regular season meetings Gasol averaged 20.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Bynum contributed 16.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. It’s also important to remember that Bynum’s numbers in the first meeting between the two teams were drastically lower than the second two because he had just come back from off-season knee surgery.
One of the keys to the success of Bynum in the first round was the constant foul trouble that plagued Emeka Okafor. Bynum’s aggressive play was too much for Okafor, and he spent the majority of the series on the bench with too many fouls. Dallas is similarly shallow at the center position, and foul trouble could spell doom for the Mavericks. Other than Tyson Chandler the Mavericks have only Brendan Haywood and Brian Cardinal as potential bodies to throw at Gasol and Bynum. This stark difference between the two clubs is the main reason many people are picking the Lakers to advance.
Where trouble may arise for the Lakers is the front-court. Other than the obvious questions surrounding Kobe Bryant’s health and Derek Fisher’s age and effectiveness, the Mavericks do have other weapons that could cause the Lakers problems. Other than the match-up nightmare that Dirk Nowitzki presents, Dallas has a bundle of good outside shooters that propel their offense. With the amount of offensive firepower that the Mavericks possess, there is no question this will be a tough series for Los Angeles.
The weapons of each team seem to be opposite of one another. While Los Angeles has a strong, dominant post presence the Mavericks make their living shooting the ball from the outside. The problem for Dallas is that their greatest strength isn’t exactly a weakness for the Lakers. The mismatch between Andrew Bynum and Tyson Chandler is far greater than that created by Nowitzki and Lamar Odom, or Jason Terry and Kobe Bryant.
Obviously the positional breakdown appears to give the Lakers the advantage. Combine that with the obvious edge in coaching (Phil Jackson vs. Rick Carlisle), the recent history, and the season series it appears everything favors Los Angeles.
Series prediction: Lakers in 6.
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