The injury-plagued Lakers come into tonight off a huge victory on the road Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings. While a victory over a Kings team that is 20 games under .500 may not seem impressive on paper, it came against a Kings squad that has been playing better of late and actually leads the NBA in points per game since the all-star break. With Steve Nash leaving the game after just one minute of play and after giving up 37 points in the first quarter, the Lakers dug down deep and showed resiliency in pulling out the victory on the road.
The Lakers will face the Dallas Mavericks tonight, a team on the Lakers’ heels in the playoff race at one-and-a-half games behind them. This game could be the moment the Mavs shave their beards, as several members of the team, including superstar Dirk Nowitzki, vowed to not shave until the team reached .500. This game is even more crucial for the Mavs than it is for the Lakers because it will put a huge dent in their playoff hopes if they are unable to pull out a victory. A win for the Lakers would give them a 3-1 edge in the head-to-head matchup with the Mavs, giving them the season series as well as an increase in their lead in the playoff chase.
Frontcourt: Dirk Nowitzki is amongst the greatest shooters in the history of basketball for any position, and he along with Larry Bird are the two best shooters of all time that stand above 6’9. The seven-foot German is now in his in his fifteenth season and his sweet jump-shot remains as lethal as ever. Dirk missed the first 27 games of the season due to surgery on his right knee, and it took him awhile to regain his usual form. It is no coincidence that the Mavs are playing their best basketball of the season at this point in time due to the fact that Nowitzki is now back to his normal self. He averaged 20 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in March while shooting 54 percent from the field and 46 percent from three-point range. It will be difficult for the Lakers to contain Dirk without Metta World Peace in the lineup.
Shawn Marion, who saw his best days playing with Steve Nash and under Mike D’Antoni as a member of the Phoenix Suns, starts at small forward. Marion remains one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league, and is likely to get the assignment on Kobe Bryant tonight. Kobe must find a solid balance between scoring and facilitating, especially if Nash indeed remains out with injury. Marion is a solid offensive player who scores primarily off the ball and in transition.
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Backcourt: Veteran Mike James has been serving as the starter at the point for the Mavs, but he is not the point guard on their roster that the Lakers have to worry about most. Darren Collison, in his fourth year out of UCLA, would fit that bill as he has the quickness in the open court to give the Lakers guards plenty of problems. Collison has struggled to gain the trust of Coach Rick Carlisle this season, but one would not know this from his production with his nightly averages at 12.2 points and 5.2 assists per game while hitting 47 percent from the field and nearly 90 percent from the line. Slowing Collison in transition will be a key to victory for the Lakers in this one.
O.J. Mayo is the second leading scorer on the Mavericks at 16.1 points a night and he has proven in his career to be a high-level scorer in the league. Mayo remains very streaky, but he still shoots an excellent 41% from three-point range on the season on over four attempts per game. Mayo has struggled matching up with Kobe Bryant in the past, and he is prone to get caught up in one-on-one battles with other players. Kobe and any other Laker who guards Mayo must be on their toes at all times as Mayo will put up a shot if he has any sort of daylight.
Keys to Victory:
Bench Contribution: The Mavericks possess one of the stronger bench units in the NBA, spearheaded by Collison and Vince Carter, who has transformed himself from former superstar to one of the best sixth men in the league. Though it will be quite difficult for the Lakers bench to score as many points as the Mavericks bench, they must match them in the hustle categories and maintain the level of play of the starters. With Steve Nash doubtful to play tonight, seldom used players such as Chris Duhon or perhaps even Darius Morris must be ready to go.
Ball Movement: The Lakers had six players in double figures in their game against the Kings, with 28 assists on their 38 made field goals. With Steve Nash unlikely to play, look for the Lakers to include Pau Gasol in the facilitating role out of the high post more, which they did in the second half against the Kings. A balanced attack will be tough for the Mavs to stop, as they struggle defensively in giving up 102.2 points per game, which is in the bottom five in the league.
Dallas Mavericks (36-37) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (38-36)
7:30 PM PST, April 2, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
CA TV: TWC Sports Network, TNT
Mavericks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mike James
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Elton Brand
Key Reserves: F Brandon Wright, G Darren Collison, G Vince Carter