Game one of round two is tonight, folks. It's in Los Angeles, so it's a late one with tipoff coming around 9:30pm, CT on TNT. To get myself mentally prepared for what we're about to face, I put together a little prediction for the series, along with some key things to watch for along the way. Feel free to post your own long-winded predictions, and I'll throw some quality ones up on the front page.
The Dallas Mavericks were underdogs in a series in which they were the higher seeded team. They managed to pull out a win in the Rose Garden, an arena in which they remained winless during the entire season. Their series victory was due in large part to the veteran nature of the team- put their backs against the wall and the Mavericks can remain composed. That turned out to be their main advantage against the Trail Blazers, a team against which the Mavericks matched up pretty evenly.
As for the Lakers, of their starters, only Andrew Bynum (6 years) has been in the league fewer than 10 seasons. And we all know he is capable of manhandling the Mavericks. So that veteran advantage flies right out the window. And as for matchups, Coach Rick Carlisle was quoted by the Dallas Morning News as saying, "These guys are bigger and stronger and they’re more balanced in terms of their ability to spread the scoring load around. So it’s a heck of a challenge." For this reason, the Mavericks will need to maintain their rebounding aggression, especially on the offensive end (read: Tyson Chandler must do work) if they hope to compete.
For the Mavericks, the key matchup lies between Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. If Dirk doesn’t score, we have a big problem. And Kobe Bryant, as quoted by the Dallas Morning News, said, "It's a big challenge for Pau," Bryant said. "It's different than guarding anybody else that he's played. Dirk can post up, can face up, can handle and obviously he shoots the three ball. It's a big challenge defensively." The same, however, could be said for Dirk guarding Pau. This one could tip the scales either way, but I don't see Pau really stopping Dirk.
And now, the question of the hour: Who will guard Kobe? DeShawn Stevenson generally handles him well, and now we have Corey Brewer to give DSteve some assistance. Though considering Brewer’s minutes in the first round, seeing him on the floor in crunch time is unlikely. Our monster defender, Shawn Marion, will be asked to cover both Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, so he might not be as effective against Bryant. His rebounding will be vital, though, which goes back to Carlisle’s emphasis on crashing the boards. Stopping Kobe will be damn near impossible, so lets hope his fragile ankle tips the scales in our favor in this one.
As for team scoring against the Lakers, it really comes down to the team finding a way to get multiple players on the scoreboard, preferably with more than one having 20+ point games. The reason is this: when Dallas had their lone victory over the Lakers in January, Dallas scored 109. Five of their players scored in double figures, and there were three players with more than 20 points. Compare that to their two losses when they faced LA in March: Dallas only averaged around 87 points, and in each loss only three players were able to reach double figures. I think they can get themselves sufficiently pumped up to score in this series, and if Jason Terry and Jason Kidd can continue their scoring into the second round, we might just be ok.
As a realist, I’d say this series could really go either way. But as a fan, I’m going to put it in the books (realizing that I’m basing this on nothing but whimsy and hope) and say that the Dallas Mavericks can take this series in 7, but only if they win one of the first two games in Los Angeles.