The Lakers played host to the current NBA champion Dallas Mavericks for the first time this season on Monday night. While there have been many changes to the Mavericks squad in both positive and negative aspects, there has also been growth on the Lakers side of the court which could easily make this meeting a lot different than the last time these two teams met.
Although the Mavericks swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Semi-Finals last season, their start to this shortened season was the furthest from impressive. Mark Cuban’s Mavs lost their first three games of the season to three playoff probable teams, including their Finals opponent the Miami Heat. The slow start, however, was clearly what was needed to put an end to the lockout mentality in Dallas, as they walked into the Staples Center on a five game win streak, sporting an 8-5 record under their belts. While their past five contenders looked to be lacking big time scorers and good enough play to even be considered for playoff contention at this moment in time, a win is a win, and the Mavericks were walking into Los Angeles with the same high and enthusiasm they carried with them throughout last seasons series.
The Lakers came off of their first loss after a five game win streak to the cross-town rival Clippers, dropping their record to 9-5 as the they got a night off after playing four games in five days. Hopefully for Laker fans the one nights rest will be enough to keep Kobe Bryant leading the charge, as his four consecutive games boasting over 40 points has been nothing but a boost for the Lakers. Bryant’s play deservedly lead to the awarding of the Western Conference player of the week title in back to back weeks.
The big play by Andrew Bynum is another key aspect to the Lakers game that they need to hold onto if they want to continue winning games. Large numbers in both rebounding and points have supported Kobe and the rest of the team to strive to be better, easily being a key reason why the Lakers have shrugged off their weak start to keep bringing excitement and hunger to both the starters and the bench. Monday night’s game was also a key opportunity for the Lakers bench to prove themselves as competitors, even without PG Steve Blake.
One thing that the Mavericks have that the Lakers are without for the first time since 2004 is Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom, who demanded a trade from LA after the three team trade that would’ve brought Chris Paul to the Lakers and shipped him off to New Orleans fell through. Odom’s play in Dallas has been questionable, seeming to not be a fit within their style of play and not being able to get a grip on his shot selection like he had while in Los Angeles. Odom, who has only pushed double digit points once this season against the Suns, has a mediocre PPG percentage of 6.8 compared to the 14.4 he held onto last season with the Lakers. His three point percentage, field goal percentage, and averages in both assists and rebounds have also all been cut in half, leading many Lakers fans to believe the acquisition of McRoberts and Murphy are easily filling the hole that Odom left at the beginning of the season.
The first quarter of the game was definitely one of the worst shooting performances the league has seen this season. The Lakers opened up with very sloppy play, allowing the ball to be deflected out of bounds a few times by Dallas within the first few minutes. They also showed why they were the worst team in the league from beyond the arc, missing quickly from three point land. L.A. started off 0-6 from the field until Gasol was able to get the ball rolling with a nice move around Nowitzki, laying an easy one in.
Luckily for L.A., the Mavericks weren’t able to find their rhythm early either, having shots rattle off the basket and even off the backboard, providing Bynum the opportunity to show Dallas what they were missing without Chandler down low with easy defensive rebounds. Halfway into the quarter the Lakers were 3-13 while the Mavericks were 5-14, proving both teams were starting off slow.
Lamar Odom stepped onto the court with a standing ovation from all of Staples Center, demonstrating a nice welcoming to the two time champion who easily was a key factor to the Lakers back to back titles in 2009-10.
Both Bryant and Nowitzki were scoreless in the quarter. If either team was looking to have a decent game in which they could build off of heading into the rest of the season, they were definitely going to have to improve both offensively and defensively. The flow of the game was absent from everyone on the court but Lamar Odom, who was 3-5 at the end of the first, leading both teams in points with seven. Dallas lead the game at the end of the first 12 minutes by three, 18-15.
The Mavericks proved that they were here to play, showing off great ball movement and to retake the lead halfway into the quarter, especially without the play from their Finals MVP. Dirk Nowitzki continued to struggle from the field, finally making some baskets with five minutes remaining – putting him at 2-8 from the field. The improved play from Dirk caused the Mavericks to start pulling away from the Lakers heading into halftime, proving that the Lakers were going to need a little more help from the bench if Kobe was going to continue missing from the field.
The game finally seemed to kick start when Josh McRoberts threw an ally-oop to Bynum, forcing the Mavericks to take a time out and get Staples Center on its feet. If the Lakers were looking to grow off their great statistic of beating Dallas in 10 of their last 13 meetings, they were needing to build off of this big play and continue feeding Bynum in the paint and making smarter passing decisions.
Bryant finally got his first field goal of the game off of a bad pass from Marion, which he solely took down the court to easily finish, smiling at Marion his whole way back down the court on defense. He quickly responded on the offensive end. Kobe finally seemed to have a grasp of the flow of the game, and he began playing like it.
Nowitzki then seemed to finally have a grasp on the game as well, as he drained a three coming out of a timeout. The increased defense by the Lakers began proving too much again for Dallas, as Dirk was becoming forced to pass the ball around to the rest of his squad who were also struggling, thus having his open shots and driving lanes taken away by the combination of Bynum and Gasol. This forced Dallas to finish the quarter shooting 36 percent from the field, while the Lakers continued to improve and eventually push themselves ahead, shooting 41 percent.
Although Bryant had started the game 0-5, he finished the quarter by making his last four shot attempts, helping the Lakers go into the locker room with a slight lead over the Mavericks, 39-35.
Next Page: Second Half