Mavs Ready to Challenge the Champions

After dropping five of the previous eight games, the Dallas Mavericks have found their way into a five-game winning streak. They put that on the line as they will take on the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night in Los Angeles. For the Mavericks, it will be the second night of a back-to-back. For the Lakers, it will be their first game in three days as the schedule gave them a nice break. "It's going to be a great test for it and we're looking forward to it," said coach Rick Carlisle. "The Lakers have been the best team in the league since the break, based on their record. But this was a good win for us." The Lakers have won seven straight and 15 of 16 since the All-Star break so the record speaks for itself.

The two teams will square off at the Staples Center for the rubber match between the two teams in 2010-11. It will be the first time the two clubs face each other in Los Angeles since Jan. 3, 2010 (Lakers recorded a 131-96 win). The Lakers have won nine of the last 12 meetings with the Mavericks. The Mavericks have struggled mightily on the road against the Lakers. Dallas has lost 34 of the last 38 match-ups in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The Mavericks snapped a 26-game losing streak in Los Angeles with a 110-93 victory on Dec. 12, 2003. Dallas is only a half-game back of the Los Angeles Lakers for No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

So what exactly is riding on the outcome of the game against the Lakers? It's taking an awfully big leap in assuming both teams will make it to the second round and face each other in the Conference Semifinals, but let's roll with it. Here is a breakdown of how pivotal Home-Court Advantage has been in the playoffs, round-by-round.

SERIES WON BY TEAM WITH HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE, since 1983-84 (when the NBA went to a 16-team format):

First Round: 166-50 (.769)
Conference Semifinals: 85-23 (.787)
Conference Finals: 37-17 (.685)
NBA Finals: 21-6 (.778)

With only eight games left in the regular season, the Mavericks can't really afford to lose the game against the Lakers and maintain a legitimate chance of catching them for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. "It’s not the end of the world to be (the No. 3 seed), but we’re going for it," said Dirk Nowitzki. "We’re going to leave it all out there (Thursday) and until the playoffs. We’ll see what happens, where we are at the end."

If the Mavericks truly want to be a championship contender, they will have to show they can hang with the Lakers. "They're playing well and they always tend to play well this time of the year," said Jason Kidd. "They understand how to defend their championship and they also know what it takes to win. This will be a good test for us to see where we are."

In the previous match-up against the Lakers on Mar. 12, the Mavericks decided to use Jason Kidd as the primary defender against Ron Artest. The results were not positive for the Mavericks as Artest bullied Kidd in the low post and forced the Mavs' point guard into foul trouble. The Mavericks can't exactly put Rodrigue Beaubois on Artest and using Marion would downgrade the overall impact he would have as a defender, so it appears that Kidd could see some more time guarding Artest. Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, never shy when it comes to voicing his opinion, welcomed the idea of the Lakers trying to use that potential match-up to their advantage. "Yeah, he likes to post it up, but anything that puts the ball in Ron Artest's hands is always a good thing," Cuban said. "Of all the choices you have on that team, you want Ron Artest making the decisions in the triangle." He's got a point, putting the ball in his hands reduces the touches for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.

Andrew Bynum was a beast in the middle for the Lakers as he scored 22 points and grabbed 15 points in the last game against the Mavericks. Bynum is part of the equation that gives the Lakers their ultimate strength, their size. The Mavericks have constructed a roster that could arguably give the Lakers their strongest challenge in terms of front line opposition. The Mavericks did not respond in the previous match-up, they'll have to on Thursday night. "They have one of the most talented front lines in the NBA," said Brendan Haywood. "We have to try to rebound with them, be physical with them and give our team the edge on the inside instead of letting them have it."

In addition to trying to recapture the lead for the No. 2 seed, the Mavericks will also look to end a streak that has lasted for several weeks. Dallas has lost their last six match-ups against teams that are currently in the top eight in the Western Conference. Coincidentally, the last team the Mavericks beat in that scenario was the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 19. If the Mavericks want to build momentum heading into the playoffs, they really need to start beating these teams they could see in the playoffs.

Jason Terry had strong words after the game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. "They’re a bad team," Terry said when assessing the Clippers. "That’s not a good team, so we had to win." Things will definitely go up a notch on Thursday against the Lakers and Terry feels there is something the Mavericks can exploit against the champions. "We have the quickness advantage and we have to utilize it," he said. "That's our plan of attack. When we're successful against them, we're able to get out in transition."

Rick Carlisle took that theory and ran with it in a different way. "We're small, but we're slow," the coach joked. "I really like our team. The Lakers are a tough matchup. They're a very difficult physical matchup for every team that plays them. Our job is to make it be our kind of game. That's never easy to do, but it starts with efficiency with the ball. And we have to play hard and smart."

There is a lot on the line Thursday night and Jason Terry knows that this game will determine who wins the season series. "One and one," Jason Terry said. "We'll see what happens. We'll be ready."

The game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers will tip off at 9:30 pm CST.

 

Twitter?  I don't even know her!  Oh......

You can stay connected with all things Dallas Mavericks by following Bryan Gutierrez on twitter @BallinWithBryan

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