Thursday Donuts: Previewing Mavs-Lakers

Ah, LA. Showtime. Hollywood. Where the family of Kim Kardashian made $65 million last year in entertainment dollars and that's not including whatever she got on the backside. Mavs-at-Lakers fits right it. This is marquee stuff. And we've got the most in-depth game preview in the history of game previews as Thursday Mavs Donuts:

DONUT 1: Dallas Mavericks (53-21) at Los Angeles Lakers (53-20). Do the "53's'' say enough?

The Mavericks have their second basketball game in LA in as many nights, as the second and third-place Western Conference teams face off in what will be a critical match up in deciding who will head into the playoffs with what seed.

The Mavs have been quite busy on the road of late with this one being their fourth roadie in the last six days. Meanwhile, the Lakers have been off since the 27th and have been home overall since March 12th. For those of you keeping count, the Lakers have not been out of LA since their last visit to Dallas.

Talk about R&R, the Lakers might be as well rested as they have been all year.

All of that must be ignored by the Mavs though, because they need to focus on the task at hand. Win and they are ahead in the race for the No. 2 seed. Lose and Dallas might as well start preparing for life as the third wheel.

"We're still right there with everybody,'' Dirk says. "Hopefully, we'll get a big win (tonight). That'll be a good one to get . . . It's not the end of the world to be No. 3, but we're going for (doing better than that). We're going to leave it all out there tomorrow and until the playoffs. We'll see what happens, where we are at the end."

DONUT 2: We addressed some of the issues last night on FS Southwest's Mavs postgame show, featuring Ro Blackman, who has been there …

DONUT 3: The major storyline: Remember when the Lakers lost three games in a row before the All-Star break, including blunders against the lowly Bobcats and Cavaliers?

Yeah, they are 15-1 since then.

The Lakers are currently in the form that you expect a two-time defending champ to be in as the postseason draws near. Ron Artest is currently a less-crazy version of himself and Andrew Bynum is playing like a championship center, all while the Lakers core of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Kobe Bryant are playing at their normal elite level.

After thrashing the Hornets at home, their quality play of late was cemented even further.

"It's good, but don't make a big deal out of this," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "It's not a big deal if we end up 24-1 (post All-Star break). What matters is we get to the playoffs healthy and with the best record possible."

All is well for the Lakers, who are garnering momentum at the exact right time.

But …

DONUT 4: As dominant as they have been recently though, they are still not even a lock for the No. 2 seed. And that's life in the Western Conference.

Expectations are high for the Mavs, who come into the Staples Center (again) on a five-game winning streak, but with just as many questions as answers. The defense has been stingy of late, but turnovers and generally erratic play have plagued Dallas recently.

The Mavs claim their last few games have been "playoff atmospheres," but the fact is if they bring the same inefficient possessions and poor execution they have had lately to the Lakers, they will get stomped.

DONUT 5: A key Mavs point about the defense: In what has been their best defensive stretch since before the knee injury to Caron Butler, the Mavs finally seem to have some of that defensive swagger back.

In their last six games they have held their opponents to a salty 87.7 points per game. That includes games against potentially high-powered offenses like San Antonio (still weird to reference the Spurs as "a high-powered offense''), Golden State, Utah, and Phoenix. Additionally, they held those opponents to only 43.1% shooting (203/471).

Gimmick? Blah-blah-Jon-Barry-blah-blah.

But "all is good''? Eh, not exactly.

DONUT 6: Over that same stretch, the Mavs have averaged 16 total turnovers (up from their season average of 13.8) and allowed 15.8 points per game off of those turnovers. This is such an uncharacteristic stat for the Mavericks that it is easy to dismiss, but it is a concern that the team isn't as sharp as they need to be with the playoffs closing in. They did a relatively good job of limiting turnovers last night against the Clippers and now would be a good time to continue that trend.

"Right now our nemesis is early turnovers,'' coach Rick Carlisle says. "We had six in the first quarter for nine points and that got us off to a bad start (against the Clippers). So, we'd like to get off to a better start in terms of efficiency with the ball, and if we can do that it will help us."

We keep referencing back to Coop's terrific help with the Donuts earlier this week: Move those 16 turnovers back down to 13 or 14 turnovers and we're talking about a couple of baskets either way that can save us from chewing down to our cuticles.

Also, over that last stretch of six games, Dirk Nowitzki is only shooting at a rate of 47.7 percent (51/107).

This is a concern that can be dismissed, as we are sure The UberMan will snap out of the current funk he is in. (We're not certain the "snap'' will occur tonight. But it would be nice.)

Oh, and for the record and for perspective, that Dirk "funk" of 48-percent field-goal shooting would be a career high for Kobe Bryant.

Just sayin'.

DONUT 7: Speaking of The Drama Queen, let's turn to the regal Lakers.

As we previously mentioned, the Lakers have spent the last 16 games pounding teams, more or less. Over that span, their defense has found its consistency by allowing only 91 points per game and for you Trollingers out there, their point differential is a dominant +9.2.

Also, in his last 14 games over that span (he missed two games last week due to suspension) Andrew Bynum is averaging 13.3 rebounds and has been dominating the paint. But, more on him later…

DONUT 8: A matchup problem. Or, rather, in our visit with Jason Kidd, THE matchup problem:

With Roddy B in the starting lineup and Shawn Marion guarding Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd is forced on to Ron Artest. While Ron-Ron isn't an explosive offensive player anymore, he is an absolute bull who can take advantage of smaller defenders in the paint. If Kidd is forced to wrestle with Artest for long stretches of the game, the Mavericks may have some trouble. Kidd will tire, Artest will have many chances at easy baskets in the paint, and he will muscle his way to quite a few offensive rebounds.

How might this go? You wanna believe Mark Cuban, who says the more Artest has the ball, the worse off LA is?

Or do you want to believe Jason Kidd while enjoying the Fish Tux Look?

We have faith in Kidd to do what he has to do, but that is quite a tall order to ask of the veteran point guard.

DONUT 9: The Last Meeting: Despite a late run to pull the game within two points, it never felt that close on March 12th when the Lakers left Dallas with a 96-91 victory. Dirk had 25 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists and Shawn Marion had 25 points and 12 rebounds. The Mavs even caught Kobe on an off-night as he went 6 for 20 from the field, but Andrew Bynum had his way with Dallas' big men as he went off for 22 and 15, while shooting 9 of 12.

It was exciting. A lot of Store t-shirts were worn.

But it was pretty much all LA.

Peja Stojakovic missed that because of neck (knee?) pain and his ability to stretch the defense was sorely missed. Tonight, it will be very interesting to see if he can have any effect on the game as a deep-shooting threat or as a decoy without his defensive liabilities being exposed.

DONUT 10: The Mavs play has been lackluster and mistake-filled recently, but all of that is in the midst of a five game winning streak.

"We know that we've got to come out (tonight) and play a whole lot better,'' said JJB. "From the start, we've got to play a whole 48 minutes. We know that we're playing the Lakers. And we've won five in a row, it hasn't been pretty, but they're still wins."

That is just another example of the expectations we have for our Boys in Blue (We love ‘em!) around these parts. After a slow start last night, the Mavs put away one half of Los Angeles' basketball teams in the Clippers.

With that win, Dallas is now only half-a-game behind the Lakers for the number two seed. Jason Kidd sounds like a guy who is already forgetting about the Clips and wants a piece of LA's varsity team.

"We'll put this one behind us and get ready for the champs," Kidd said. "They're playing extremely well, so we'll go over their stuff tomorrow and give it our best shot."

Hey, it's not the supreme confidence we like to hear, but we'll take it.

Meanwhile, LA's confidence is real. And it is spectacular.

The Lakers are flying high right now and have retaken the unofficial throne as the monthly media darling picked to win the championship. There's not much to harp on, but Zen master Coach Phil Jackson had a few thoughts after their win over the Hornets.

"I think we have to get some guys shooting well and get some rhythm," Jackson said after the win. "Defensively, we're doing some things that are pretty good, but there's some work we have to do in that area, too."

Allow us to decode this for you: " We are really good and playing well, but I have to put casually put this into the media as a half-hearted attempt to keep my guys motivated. P.S. I am awesome."

DONUT 11: A couple of Mavs of Note: Rodrigue Beaubois- Despite always being the coolest cat in the room, Roddy B was visibly nervous and tight earlier in the month when the Lakers visited the AAC. … Bambi-on-Ice nervous. His stats tell much of the same story as he went 1 for 7 shooting with two points, six rebounds, and two turnovers. As young as he is, it is understandable that a team like the Lakers got in his head a bit, but it can't happen often if the Mavs want to make any kind of memorable run in the playoffs. Want a different result? Root for Roddy B to be much more composed in this one and to have a bigger impact on the game.

Tyson Chandler- To put it nicely, Andrew Bynum took his lunch money last time they met, bought some food, and then stomped on it right in front of him just for fun. The Mavs, who are supposedly the team best equipped to deal with the Lakers' length, have to control Bynum and Pau Gasol to have a chance in these games. In order to do that, Chandler must lead the way.

DONUT 12: Lakers of Note: Andrew Bynum- For the same reason Tyson Chandler is a "Mav of Note," Bynum must be accounted for on the Lakers. If he is getting the Mavericks big men into foul trouble, putting up big numbers, and tossing Tyson Chandler around then Dallas is in for a long night.

Bryant, Gasol, and Odom will likely achieve some level of scripted damage. If Bynum is going get his too, then the Lakers are flat-out unbeatable.

DONUT 13: Projected Lineups: Tip off at 9:30 pm. Both teams come into this game fully healthy with all hands on deck (not counting Caron in a suit). No excuses are available for either side.

Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum

Mavs: Jason Kidd, Roddy Beaubois, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler

This one is a doozy to the point that it's going national on TNT. All eyes on you, Mavs.


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