The Dallas Mavericks have always seen the San Antonio Spurs as their primary rival, playoff series over the years have created that rivalry. If things hold course, the Mavericks have a chance to create the long-anticipated playoff rivalry against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Semifinals. Fans will get a taste of the experience on Saturday Night as the Mavericks (47-18) and the Lakers (46-20) will square off in a playoff-like atmosphere at the American Airlines Center.
With the Mavericks and the Lakers playing three times this season and the Mavericks already holding a 1-0 lead, the tie-breaker on the line Saturday night. "Every game is a statement game at this point," forward Shawn Marion added. "And I think we’ve just got to be ready and go out and just play our game."
Rick Carlisle ruled Peja Stojakovic out for his third straight game due to a stiff neck. Stojakovic was limited to light individual shooting during the team's morning shootaround. It was visible that he was moving around slowly and had limited mobility in his neck. Carlisle mentioned that Stojakovic was doing "better" but would not offer any kind of timetable for his return. Shawn Marion has started the last two games for the Mavericks in Stojakovic's absence. Carlisle will never discuss starting lineups prior to the game, but one would have to assume that Shawn Marion will get his third straight start. It is only a window of two games, but the Mavericks' defensive results have improved with Marion in the starting lineup. The coach has noticed it, but he only wanted to comment on the offensive side of the court. "There is a difference," Carlisle said. "We play a little bit different type of game with Shawn than we do with Peja. Our set offense is a little different, our flow game is a little different, but they're both effective."
The Mavericks' defense has slipped during the stretch where they have won 20 of their last 23 games. You can go back even farther and say they have won 21 of their last 25 games if you go back to the victory against the Lakers on Jan. 19. The slippage has come in the form of opponents averaging 99.2 points per game and shooting 45.8 percent against Dallas in that span. Luckily for them, the offense has been so efficient that it has been able to mask the defensive slip. The Mavericks have averaged 106.2 points per game on 49.1 percent shooting over the last 25 games.
Rick Carlisle said that one of the bigger points of emphasis in Saturday's game would be how each player guards their respective position. When you look at any kind of defensive scheme to go up against the Lakers, it always starts with game planning on how you plan to stop Kobe Bryant. The team knows that taking away Bryant's touches is nearly impossible, but they want to make sure they take away his ability to get to his sweet spots as much as possible. Rick Carlisle said that you need to have multiple coverages and multiple players ready when it comes to guarding Bryant. The Mavericks have been vocal about their depth and it will definitely come into play on Saturday. "That's why you have a team," Carlisle said. "You've gotta take that challenge on as a group."
Kobe Bryant is well aware of the fact that the Mavericks have been playing very well since the last time the two teams met in January. "They have a great deal of talent, they're extremely well-coached," Bryant said. "They're playing great basketball. I mean, the last 23 games they've only lost three times." He also knows what ultimately led to their 109-100 defeat on Jan. 15. "The last time we were here, they really hurt us in transition, I mean they got out and busted us," Bryant said. "The bench came in and played extremely well."
Much was made of Bryant's post-game practice after the game against the Miami Heat. "What are you supposed to do, it's our job," said Bryant. The Lakers guard said he felt pretty "spry" today, so we will see if the extra work will wear him down against the Mavericks. Bryant made sure to give praise to Dirk Nowitzki in Bryant's special way. "He's one of the best players in the league bar none. I'm not going to sit here and just kiss his ass for 10 seconds. He's a great player.'' The tie-breaker is on the line tonight and Bryant does see the importance of the game. "It's very important just from the challenge of it," he said. "You always want to move up and want to have the highest seed you can possibly have.
"Tonight is a good opportunity to see how we how much we have improved since the last time we came here. I'm looking forward to it."
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have been through many battles and made statements as the two-time defending NBA Champions, tonight is not seen as an opportunity to do so from the Lakers' perspective. "It's tough to make statements," Bryant said. "I've been in series where we lost every game to an opponent and then go in the playoffs and sweep them, so it's tough to really make statements at this time of year."
"That’s the defending champs, they don’t need to measure up to anybody," Mavericks center Tyson Chandler said. "But any time you have an opportunity against a team of that caliber and you have the opportunity to get a full game then it’s always a huge game, and they’re gonna be thinking the same thing. They know they’re right behind us, they’re on our heels. They know a full game could help down the stretch, and we’re coming in with the same motive."
The Saturday night showdown between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers will tip off at the American Airlines Center at 8:00 pm CST.
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