The Lakers continue their road trip tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers did not start their road trip off the way they wanted to with a disappointing loss against the struggling Kings in Sacramento and another loss last night against the Grizzles. After losing their opening night game to Dallas on October 30th, the Lakers plan to get some payback by evening the season series tonight. In that 99-91 Laker loss, the Mavs created a balanced offensive attack and rode on high energy and effort to capture the win. The Lakers go into tonight’s game looking to find some momentum and get back to the .500 mark.
The Mavericks have to be content with their 7-6 start considering they are without their franchise player, Dirk Nowitzki, and they lost most of their key role players (Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, etc.) in the off-season due to free agency. The Lakers have an all-time record of 101-32 against the Mavericks with a 46-20 road record against Dallas. The Mavericks have dropped the last three games against the Lakers at American Airlines Arena.
Frontcourt: Unlike in the season opener, Dwight Howard will be matched-up with veteran center Chris Kaman tonight. Howard must use his strength and abilities over Kaman to take advantage of this match-up. Kaman is posting 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. I expect Howard to have a big, turnaround performance tonight.
Shawn Marion is expected to play despite battling a knee injury. Despite his assists per game (3.3) being higher this season compared to his career average, Marion is contributing less in points per game (7.3) and rebounds per game (7.6). This is not a huge surprise as Marion is in his 14th year in the league.
Elton Brand came up big down in the stretch in the season opener against the Lakers. Brand provided a spark of energy that is sometimes forgotten about of the 33 year old. This cannot occur again as Pau Gasol has to play with more energy and passion than Brand on both sides of the court. Brand is averaging career lows in points (6.0) and rebounds (6.0) per game. Gasol must consistently box-out Brand to win the rebound battle.
Reserves Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder provided a needed spark for the Mavs to beat the Lakers on October 30th. They are decent bench players posting a combined 15.8 points and 5.8 boards per game.
Backcourt: O.J. Mayo has had a very good start to the season, and with Nowitzki out, is the primary option on offense. The Mayo/Bryant duel will be very interesting tonight and limiting Mayo’s offense will be key for Kobe Bryant. Mayo is leading the Mavericks in points (22.2) and minutes (35.0) per game and is shooting quite efficiently from the field (50.3 percent) and from the three-point line (56.8 percent).
Thirty-five year old veteran Vince Carter is proving to be a consistent bench player as he has slid into the position of role player over the past few seasons. This does not mean that Carter can’t still have big games for the Mavs, and therefore should not be slept on by the Laker defense. Overall, Carter is averaging 13.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 24.1 minutes.
Darren Collison is improving on offense this season, but still struggles on defense. This may be a great opportunity for Darius Morris, who will remain the starting point guard until Steve Blake returns, to show off his offensive abilities. Collison is averaging 13.8 points and a team leading 6.5 assists per game on 46.0 percent shooting.
Keys to Victory:
Get the Bigs Active: In the October 30th game against Dallas, Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 23 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. In that same game, Howard posted 19 points and 10 rebounds. Dwight’s contribution was definitely affected by his 11 missed free-throws, which I will discuss below. The Lakers’ frontcourt is their biggest strength. Not only are Gasol and Howard the most skilled big men in the game, but when they are on, the Lakers are on.
So far this season, we have seen opponents unafraid to rely on the Hack-A-Dwight concept to stop the clock and reduce points per possessions. This was showcased during the season opener where Dallas forced Howard to the line under pressure. As a result, Dwight shot a dismal 3-14 from the line, ultimately costing the Lakers the game. This can’t happen again, especially if Dallas goes to the Hack-A-Dwight since it worked last time. Dwight needs to convert at least 55 percent of his free-throws to prevent this from occurring again.
Additionally, the Lakers’ frontcourt is running out of excuses for getting outplayed and performing with little effort. In the game against Sacramento, Gasol and Howard combined for 15 points and 19 rebounds on 5-14 shooting. Last night, they combined for 13 points and 8 rebounds on 5-15 shooting. That kind of performance is inexcusable. In the last two games, the Lakers have been outscored in the paint 90-46. Adjustments must be made to get Howard more involved offensively and Gasol is in dire need for a statement game.
Keep Turnovers Under 12, Force Turnovers: I wrote this same exact key in my last pre-game report against the Brooklyn Nets, but I repeat it for a reason. The importance of ball control is heightened on the road, especially with all the crowd noise to distract you. The Lakers put together a couple of good games where they decreased their turnover average to around the 12 per game, and the results were positive. The Lakers committed 14 turnovers during their last match-up against Dallas, where the Mavs were able to score 17 points off those turnovers. Last night, the Lakers committed 19 turnovers, which led to 29 points off those turnovers.
Secondly, the Lakers need to provide a consistent defensive effort throughout the game. In other words, stay with your man, keep your hands up and crash the boards. Late in their game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, the Mavs were outscored 21-10. This happened because the Mavs gave up rebounds and committed careless turnovers. Perhaps D’Antoni can take some defensive scheme pointers from the coach who inherited his job in New York.
Los Angeles Lakers (6-7) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7-6)
5:30 PM PST, November 24, 2012
American Airlines Arena, Dallas, TX
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Mavericks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Darren Collison
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Elton Brand
C: Chris Kaman
Key Reserves: G Vince Carter, C Brandan Wright, F Jae Crowder
Mavericks Injury Report: F Dirk Nowitzki is out (knee)