While stuck in the franchise's longest losing streak in over a decade, coming home from a painful road trip seems like it would be the best antidote. That's not the case this time, as Kobe Bryant and the defending champs are waiting for the Mavs at the AAC. This game has been marked on the calendar for a while now, as many of the strategic offseason moves made by the Mavs were done with the Lakers in mind.
Well, here they are.
Here's Kobe's meeting with the media after the Lakers' early-afternoon shootaround:
Despite their recent struggles, the Mavericks can use this game as a proclamation to show the league they are still a force to be reckoned with. "Our competitive level has to come up, it is as simple as that," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game against the Pistons on Monday. That's good advice, as they don't come much more competitive than tonight.
It's test time. It's Cubes vs. Jeanie Buss' Boy Toy.
The Storyline: We get our initial look at the Lakers tonight as the two teams face off in the first of three meetings this season. It may not be ideal timing, but this game is a measuring stick whether the Mavs like it or not. Tyson Chandler was brought in with the DUST Chip and Brendan Haywood was re-signed this summer in order to counteract the Lakers' length along the frontline of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum. That length is here tonight and is rolling along as of late.
It wasn't too long ago that the Lakers were the team under the "struggling" microscope after losing three straight in late December. Those days have faded away as they've won 12 of 14 since. Coming off an important win over the Thunder, they've also successfully worked Andrew Bynum back into the mix after his long layoff. They're firing on all cylinders for the most part, minus noted Mav-killer Matt Barnes who is out another 7-8 weeks after knee surgery.
The Mavs worked tirelessly on defense in practice and the film room yesterday, and you can always use a little extra defense with Kobe Bryant in town.
"Defensively, we took a step back (against the Pistons), particularly in the third quarter," noted Coach Carlisle. That third quarter included a run where the Pistons made 12 straights buckets. That absolutely cannot happen against the Lakers.
Obviously adjustments have to be made and perhaps even a trade is in order, but it's possible that an opponent of this caliber can spark the Mavs and help them snap out of their recent funk.
But before Dallas gets there, Donnie wants the Mavs in that foxhole:
Dirk Nowitzki notes: "(The Lakers) are very good. They're tough to beat, but usually they bring the best out of us." Hopefully that's the case, because if the Mavs simply go out and feel sorry for themselves, then it could get ugly. As in the Lakers' "112-57 win over Cleveland" ugly.
Key Mavs Stats: It's all about the defense. During the losing streak the Mavs have been faulted for their offense, which was especially hard to come by while Dirk was out with injury. Even while they were going on 12-game winning streaks and such, the Mavs scoring was down when compared to recent years, but it was swept under the rug because of their efficiency and their improvement defensively. With the defense slipping, every problem is amplified. Over the last six games, opponents have shot 232 for 476, or 48.7%. During the losing streak opponents have shot nearly 50 percent! That's unacceptable in itself, but when you throw in the Mavs shooting 44% over the same span, it becomes unbearable.
(Check out Dugat's Donut 1 this morning. He's all over the overall slippage.)
In an optimistic take, the Mavs are only 2 games behind the Lakers in the loss column. And despite what has seemed like the end of the world in the last few days, the Mavericks are only half a game back from third place in the conference.
All is far from lost, MFFLs.
Key Lakers Stats: What kind of season is Kobe Bryant having? Not the same as in past years. Since he became a regular starter for the Lakers in 1998, he has always played more minutes per game than the 33.2 he is putting in this year. He is averaging 25.2 points per game on 19.3 field goal attempts, both his lowest since 2003. Though slight, his rebounds, steals, blocks, and assists are all down from last year. That drop off is most likely because of his decrease in minutes, but still interesting none-the-less. With over 1200 games under his belt, it makes sense that the Laker offense is leaning on Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom even more than in recent years.
The Last Meeting: Let's rewind to the last meeting between these two teams and see if we can eliminate some of the potential excuses the Mavs may have if they lose tonight. The game was in Dallas on February 24, 2010:
Starting Line ups back then:
Mavs: Stevenson-Kidd-Haywood-Nowitzki-Marion. Butler had a DNP- Reaction to Medication
How did the Mavs ever compete with that line up?
Oh, and the final score? Mavs-101 Lakers-96
The Mavs Locker Room: At practice yesterday it wasn't all doom and gloom for the Mavs. Afterwards, guys were having 3-point competitions, Caron Butler made a light-hearted visit, and the constantly high-spirited assistant coach Darrell Armstrong was throwing basketballs, ringing bells, and yelling things. The situation has not changed, but there's no point in moping around all day and being miserable. That accomplishes nothing.
Tyson Chandler summed it up: "It's time for us to get back, bond together, and get back to our winning ways. We're in a situation where we need to recognize what we're playing for. We have to recognize our opportunity."
Jason Kidd also had his say, and DB.com was there at shootaround to capture it:
The opportunity tonight is to get a big win over the defending champs, which will go a long way toward putting this hellish stretch of games in the rearview mirror.
The Lakers Locker Room: It's hard to tell how legitimately content a Kobe Bryant dominated locker room is, but the Lakers seem to be just that. In fact, maybe a little too content. The Lakers hadn't lost three games in a row since the 06-07 season, but this year they've had two such stretches. It's impossible to doubt a competitor like Bryant and even harder to doubt Zen master coach Phil Jackson, but it can at least be argued that the Lakers are a little too "fat and happy" with their two consecutive championships.
You know expectations of a franchise are high when all of this is said even as the Lakers come in 12-2 in their last 14 games.
Match-Up of Note: As stated by what seems like everyone in the NBA at some point, the Lakers have length in their frontcourt. That frontcourt depth has grown even stronger with the resurgence of Andrew Bynum, who seems to be getting into a comfortable groove coming off injury. Bynum is averaging 12.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game over the last 10 games. He, along with Gasol and Odom provide one of the most formidable frontcourts in the league. The Mavs feel they have the answer to it with their Nowitzki-Chandler-Haywood combination. Watch these match ups to see some "length on length" crime and to see the first sample of how the offseason moves fare against the Lakers.
Cubes and the Boy Toy: With this meeting of Mavs-Lakers comes the first time Mark Cuban and Phil Jackson could potentially be in contact since they grabbed headlines with words for each other a couple weeks back.
When Coach Jackson commented on how the Mavs would have trouble filling the void left by Caron Butler's injury, Mark Cuban fired back: "I love that Jeanie Buss' boy toy had something to say about us.''
He added: "I don't know if it was his thought or Jeanie's thought, but it's nice to know she lets him speak in public about other teams.''
Not to be outdone, Coach Jackson responded, "Mark must be really worried. If he's got to comment on that, he must be really worried."
He continued: "I love it, I consider myself an old man, to hear that I'm a boy-toy? That's terrific."
As entertaining as all that was, we'd rather listen to Phil talk basketball, which he does here:
And here's to hoping that only a basketball game breaks out tonight. And if you are a Dallas fan, here's to hoping for a Mavs win to leave this losing streak in the dust.
Projected Lineups: Tip off at 8 pm. The Lakers come in with the usual suspects and the Mavs lineup is under the assumption that Tyson Chandler will play.