After back to back losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings, the Dallas Mavericks (9-5) take on the Los Angeles Lakers (8-6) Wednesday night. The Mavericks started the season by capitalizing on a soft schedule but sit at 9-5 after back-to-back defeats to playoff caliber teams. The Lakers, on the other hand, are 5-1 in their last six games and have rebounded well after a rough start to the season. The matchup will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Lakers. Let’s get into the keys for the game.
Defense, where art thou?
When it comes to the Maverick’s defensive shortcomings, is the problem coaching, execution, or roster construction? The simple answer is all the above. The lack of point of attack defense shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Kyrie Irving has been a traffic cone his entire career. Josh Green appears to be taken out by a sniper anytime he makes contact with a screener. Even when he’s engaged, no one will ever accuse Luka of being a lock down defender. Tim Hardaway Jr., while a delight on the offensive end, is infuriating to watch play defense. Management tried to bolster the defense with the additions of Dereck Lively, Grant Williams, and Derrick Jones Jr after getting rid of Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock. Even so, there should still some sort of gameplan to slow down other teams. Lively, sometimes looking alone on an island, is not enough.
Teams with lackluster perimeter defense understand they can’t contain dribble penetration but will attempt to steer ball handlers in certain directions. Some teams will force everything towards the middle and leave it up to their big man, usually in drop, to force attackers into contested shots. Other teams will force ball handlers to the wings and use a weakside defender to help clog driving and passing lanes. The Mavericks do neither. They die and/or take the scenic route on screens, thus allowing offenses to play 5-on-4 or 4-on-3 and are left to scramble. When it’s Finney-Smith, Bullock, and Spencer Dinwiddie rotating on a string, it isn’t the worst thing in the world. When it’s Kyrie, Luka, Josh Green, and Hardaway in rotation, it looks like an Apple store is being raided.
Did the Mavericks pack a pair of big boy pants?
The Lakers have the physicality and length to bully the Mavs. Derrick Lively has been about as good as a 19-year-old rookie center can be so far this season but he doesn’t have the strength to deter LeBron with a head of steam. In the post, Anthony Davis’ skills and flair for the dramatic will make it hard for Lively to avoid foul trouble. This will be a big test for Lively. If it’s Dwight Powell and, sigh, Richaun Holmes left to man the middle, things could get ugly for the Mavericks in a hurry.
It’s too early to tell if teams and players care about the In-Season Tournament. If we assume the Lakers care, they have a chance to beat the Jazz, undefeated in group stage play, and enter the next of the tournament as Group Stage winners. If the game is competitive, the Lakers could look at their matchup with the Mavericks as the ideal chance to give their brittle stars some rest. If the Lakers blow out the Jazz and can avoid playing their stars big minutes, it’s possible we see LeBron and Anthony Davis play their usual minutes Wednesday night.
How to watch
Shockingly, this Lakers-Mavericks matchup is not on national TV. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. CT and can be watched on either Bally Sports Southwest or League Pass if you’re outside of the DFW market.