Saturday evening’s Lakers – Mavs game is set to take on even more importance than a March meeting between two teams separated by only 1.5 games in the Western standings normally would, thanks to the 2010-11 NBA schedule.
While each team plays most opponents in their own conference four times, and those in the opposite conference twice, each season there are four teams within a conference that a given team plays only three times. This year for the Lakers, the Mavericks (March 31) and Nuggets (April 3) come to STAPLES Center only once, while L.A. ventured to Oklahoma City (Feb. 27) and Houston (Dec. 1) just once.
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“With a three game season series, there’s going to be a 2-1 winner out of that, so there’s a whole sway as to whether (Dallas) can win the game tomorrow or not,” explained Phil Jackson. “It becomes an important game in the race for positions.”
This because if both teams finish with the same record, whichever team wins twice will carry the tiebreaker, and thus claim the higher seed in the playoffs. In this case, if neither L.A. or Dallas catches the first place San Antonio Spurs (6.0 games up on Dallas, 7.5 on the Lakers), the team that manages to finish second would carry potential home-court advantage were the two teams to meet in the Western Semi’s.
Of course, Jackson was quick to remind that before any speculation about playoff seeding or potential matchups of any sort, the Lakers can only now focus on beating Dallas on Saturday, which they weren’t able to do on their last trip to Texas (Jan. 19).
“Last time we came out really well and controlled the game for the first 15 minutes or so,” recalled Pau Gasol. “Then they made a run and got back in the game and it got away from us.”
The Spaniard’s memory serves him well here, as the Lakers raced to an early lead at 24-16 that they’d build to as high as 10 midway through the second quarter at 45-35. L.A. had been able to convert in the paint on one end, and keep the Mavericks restricted on the perimeter at the other. Dallas missed its first seven three-pointers, in fact, but that would end up haunting the Lakers as L.A. stopped getting out to contest shots only to watch the Mavs sink seven of their next eight triples to trim L.A.’s lead to just four at the half.
It was more of the same in the second half, Dallas adding five more three-pointers, five total from Jason Kidd and four from Jason Terry, to win 109-100.
“We do have to identify the guys that are three-point shooters,” said Phil Jackson when asked about areas of focus. “Kidd hurt us, Terry hurt us.”
The Lakers did not allow the league’s best three-point shooting team, San Antonio, to hurt them from long range in L.A.’s blowout win on Sunday, with only four of S.A.’s seven hits coming before garbage time. But while the general game plan of packing the paint, contesting threes and conceding mid-range jumpers will be employed, Jackson noted what differentiates the Mavericks from the Spurs.
“They’re unique,” he said. “They have a lot of different flavors as far as offense goes. They rarely post up … they have isolations for (Dirk) Nowitzki, but it’s a team that tries to break you down using screen rolls. It’s not about dribble penetration as much as it is about covering especially players like Terry and Nowitzki who are unique in their games.”
The Lakers are aware of two players now contributing to Dallas that weren’t playing back in January, recently healthy Rodrigue Beaubois and recently acquired Corey Brewer, as well as two bigs who weren’t with the Mavs last season in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.
“They have a lot of personnel that can be dangerous, they play well together, move the ball well,” said Gasol. “They have a nice, balanced team with a lot of players contributing. That makes them dangerous, but I think we are a dangerous team ourselves.”