We’re in the final hours of the 2021-22 NBA regular season. The tanking teams are turning in injury reports for their whole roster, contenders are coasting into home-floor first-round series, and the Lakers… oh, the Lakers.
With news that LeBron and AD are both doubtful for their game against the Mavericks, perhaps the long-beleaguered squad is finally facing the music; content to slide into 11th and bow out of the playoff race altogether rather than slum it in the play-in tournament. After opening as pre-season championship favorites with a star-studded, if aging, roster, the Lakers are 10th in the West, just a game above the San Antonio Spurs, and now are 8.5 point underdogs on the road in Dallas.
Over the last 10 games, no team in the league has allowed opponents to score more than the Los Angeles Lakers. They’re 3-7 over that span, and those wins required Herculean offensive efforts, with winning scores of 131-120, 128-123, and 122-109. They haven’t won a single game without scoring 120+ points – something that seems like a tall order against this newfound defensive competence in Dallas.
Over the same 10-game stretch, Dallas is allowing opponents to score just 106.5 per game, good for fourth in the league. It feels like the exact kind of game Dallas should be in control of so long as they stay disciplined defensively. With AD and LeBron sidelined, all that stands in the way of a 20-point thwomping is an insanely unshackled game from Westbrook. It’s been covered to death, but to say Russ has not fit in in LA would be an understatement. Still, with no one else on the court, he’ll have the greenest possible light to go attempt and recreate his OKC glory days. Dallas just needs to do its job on the defensive side, and not crap the bed on offense.
How to solve a problem like Maxi
Our own Matthew Phillips dove into the numbers surrounding Maxi’s recent slump about a week ago. The issue was already plainly apparent when we published it, and not much has changed in the two games since. It’s gotten so bad, that in the midst of losing a game in Minnesota, the Wolves TV crew gave Maxi a “good for you” when he finally hit a three on his 1-6 night behind the arc.
I won’t recap the whole article, but in short, Maxi is too important to this team’s rotation to be a zero on offense. Now, these guys are professional basketball players. The typical solution to a shooting slump is simply to stay the course and shoot your way out of it. Well, to his credit, he’s still shooting, it just hasn’t helped. Still, he hasn’t had the chance to shoot against literally one of the worst defensive teams in the league like he will against the Lakers. At this point, you have to assume it’s an entirely mental problem, so when you see that first Maxi three go up Tuesday night, keep those fingers crossed, knock on wood, say a prayer, whatever you’ve gotta do to will that shot in. It could be the shot that breaks whatever curse someone put on Maxi.
Now or never
After fighting tooth and nail for what felt like months to claim sole possession of 4th place in the West, to immediately set sights on 3rd place may smack of a little “what have you done for me lately,” but… what have you done for me lately?
Winning now isn’t just about gunning for 3rd, mind you. It’s not like Utah is just going to roll over the rest of the season. But if Dallas wants to make headway towards catching the Warriors for the 3rd spot, it’ll most likely happen sooner rather than later. Golden State’s next three games are against three playoff teams: Memphis, Phoenix, and Utah. It’ll be by far their toughest slate of games before seeding is cemented, so if Dallas has plans to make a run, it’s now or never.
How to watch
You can watch the broadcast on TNT at 6:30 CST.
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