MAVNALYSIS: Mavs' Difference In LA/LA Land

We preview ‘Mavs in LA/LA' – at Lakers tonight and at Clips on Wednesday – with a Mavnalysis on the major storylines for the games and the real key to Dallas' defense: We've unearthed a number demonstrating the difference between this year's defense and last year's … and with apologies to Tyson, the reason for that number is big, but not 7-foot big. Confused? Come to LA/LA and we'll clear it up:

First, the blockbuster number: Entering the week, the Dallas Mavericks are tied for first in the NBA with "points in the paint" allowed per game with 33.2. How astounding is that? Last year's championship team, anchored by the "irreplaceable'' Tyson Chandler, allowed 41.6.


What's the difference? It's not a matter of philosophy, of course; elevated assistant Monte Mathis is largely continuingly the fine work of predecessor Dwane Casey. Is it center play? No. We've established that Haywood/Mahinmi are matching Chandler/Haywood in terms of stats. And it's certainly true that Big Wood has flexed his defensive muscle.

But again, Haywood did that to great effect last year, too, especially in the postseason. Is it the quality of opponents? Please. You feared Boston before you played them. You cannot downgrade Boston just because you beat them.

No, the difference is … Delonte West. He's a foot shorter than Tyson Chandler and he makes about 1/14th what TY now makes. But Delonte is the difference. The reason Dallas opponents aren't scoring in the paint isn't because Haywood/Mahinmi is stopping them once they're in there.

It's because the Delonte-led perimeter defense isn't allowing the ball in there in the first place. Here, against OKC, Delonte doesn't even allow the ball to go into the high post:

The Mavs can now do something defensively that is not a Kidd forte, something that eases the burden on the Dallas centers, something that is absolutely pivotal to the Mavs' 10-game run of allowing an average of 84.2 points per game: They can finally keep point guards out of the paint.

That is the difference. The Delonte Difference.

Now, onto LA/LA. … the storylines, including how The Delonte Difference might apply.

Each game only counts as one out of 66. Divisional and conference tiebreakers aside, a win against a contender really carries about the same weight in the standings as a win against an also-ran. However, from another perspective, some games just seem to mean more. For the new-look defending champs, this week offers two such games in the form of measuring-stick contests against those that call the Staples Center home.

Recently, the Mavs have been on a roll by beating teams they were supposed to beat and by earning a hard-fought victory in Boston. Now the Mavericks get to see how far they really have come since an embarrassing 0-3 start that included two blowouts at home. Is the defense a mirage? Are the new guys finally assimilating as well as it seems? Questions like these abound, and this week will offer some answers. Not final answers, mind you, but more like a progress report.

Aside from intriguing questions about this Mavericks team, each matchup with the now-intimidating LA duo offers juicy story lines that have Maverick ties. Here's a breakdown.

Monday Mavs at Lakers

Can Kobe Score 40 again? Perhaps you've noticed, but Mr. Bryant is on a bit of a tear recently. Many will point to the fact that he hasn't scored less than 40 points in four straight outings, but for the month of January, he is averaging 35.6 points a game on 47% shooting. His hot hand will prove a tough test for the Mavericks who will face the Mamba without DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler, two former Mavs who have seen time guarding Kobe in the past but will now do so for other teams. Without a Kobe-stopper, or at least one suited to attempt the task, the Mavericks will likely rely on a team-based model to prevent Bryant from reaching 40 points again. However, Kobe has burned the Mavs in the past, highlighted by the night he outscored Dallas by himself through three quarters.

How will Lamar Fare? Odom's struggles are well-documented, as is their connection to the recent upheaval in Odom's personal life. From questions about his body language to whether or not Lamar Odom wanted to even play this season, LO has been through quite a bit recently. He is still clearly smarting from being offered in the Chris Paul package, but his play of late is encouraging. He looks more active, more engaged, and he seems to be playing his way into shape.

Indeed, check out the numbers (nine points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in only 22 minutes as he led the Mavs in plus/minus with a plus-32) and the highlight from Saturday's blowout win over Sacto:

Monday offers perhaps Odom's biggest test of the season. He will be under the microscope from the moment he arrives at the scorer's table. He should be met with hearty cheers from his former hometown fans and warm embraces from former teammates (or maybe not) but how will he play? A man as affected by his ouster as Odom was will certainly be emotionally-motivated even if he won't show it. The control of these emotions will be a factor. Can he channel these into a performance not seen since he became a Maverick or will the pain get the best of him again?

Remember Last Spring? How is this storyline not No. 1? Well a lot has changed since last season's playoffs. The Mavericks aren't the same team they were in May, but you can bet a competitor as driven as Kobe has been looking towards this game since he walked off the AAC court without a single victory in the semifinals. Bynum, Gasol and the rest of Lakers surely remember their most ignominious playoff exit together as well. This, in combination with the LO circus, and the recent hotness of Kobe's play are reasons to guess there will be a playoff-like atmosphere in LA on Monday night.

Wednesday Mavs at Clippers

Lob City, Meet Titletown Perhaps the young Clippers no longer are fans of the "Lob City" moniker they formerly embraced. However, this one figures to feature plenty of alley-oops as the Mavericks face off against two things they aren't great at: an athletic front line, and a quick point guard.

Or maybe now they ARE good at defending that "quick point guard.''

As much as this is a measuring stick game for the Mavs, it is the same for the Clippers. They too are assimilating new pieces from an off season overhaul, including their entire starting backcourt. Early results are positive, as the young Clippers seem perfectly built to thrive in a lockout-condensed season. However, there is no bigger measure of one's progress than against a defending champion playing its best basketball of the year. Expect this one to be hotly-contested as well.

Caron Butler faces His old Mates Tuff Juice was a part of the Mavericks' DNA last year. No he didnt make an on-court contribution past the new year, but his work ethic and countless attempts to make it back inspired those Mavericks who were on the court. His versatility is missed, but the Mavs have done remarkably well filling the void created by his departure with a combination of Vince Carter, Delonte West, and others each providing elements of what Butler used to bring to this team. His motivation against his former team will surely be heightened in this one.

A true test of Mavs' Defense As mentioned, the Clippers boast two things the Mavericks do not, and have traditionally struggled against. Chris Paul always seems to have a good game against Dallas, as does Chauncey Billups. Delonte guards Paul. Can the "old-and-slow'' Mavericks hope to keep the young, lightning-fast Paul from the lane? Where Paul used to have one athletic big man to throw lobs to in Tyson Chandler, he has two. Plan to see plenty of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan lob passes testing the Mavs' defense Wednesday night.

Another nugget to watch … who will guard Blake Griffin? He is too fast and too strong for any Mavs front-court member to guard him one-on-one and employing the team model to check Griffin risks leaving one of LA's shooters (or Jordan) open for easy buckets. Plan on seeing plenty of Marion and Odom, as well as others, taking turns guarding the former Sooner.

Can the Mavs keep Kobe on the perimeter on Monday and then keep Paul from penetrating on Wednesday? Delonte is ready to talk defense ...

That's the central story from a three-day, two-game Mavs trip to LA/LA Land. And Delonte will be in the middle of it.

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