After an eventful and productive off-season in which the Lakers acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the team returns to the hardwood tonight. The Lakers host the Mavericks on opening night at Staples Center and all eyes will be on the Lakers’ heralded fantastic four.
On paper, Kobe, Howard, Gasol and Nash seem like a team tailor made to win a championship, but will it come together on the court? The Lakers were winless in preseason but that record can only be taken with a grain of salt since Mike Brown’s focus was on experimenting with different rotations rather than winning.
Dallas is missing two members of their starting frontcourt, Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki, who are replaced by Elton Brand and the perpetually underachieving Eddy Curry. Will the Lakers be able to take advantage of a shorthanded Mavericks team?
Let’s dive into the particulars.
Frontcourt: Nowitzki, the star of the Mavs, is out for at least six weeks after undergoing knee surgery. It’s obviously a huge loss for the Mavs to lose their leading scorer, but Elton Brand will do his best to replace him. Last season Brand averaged a career low 11 points and 7.2 rebounds, but at least he remained healthy, which is all the Mavs are asking for.
The loss of Kaman for the opener means that Eddy Curry will likely get the start. Curry has not shown the ability to stay healthy or in shape over the course of his career, but the Mavericks were desperate for big bodies. Rounding out the frontcourt is Shawn Marion who is one of the perennial role players in the league. The statistics may not reflect the magnitude of his contributions, but he is active on both sides of the court rebounding, setting screens and deflecting loose balls.
Backcourt: The Mavs infused their backcourt with youth during the off-season. Collison and Mayo are new acquisitions who replace Kidd and Terry. Vince Carter has been moved to the bench for now in order to make room for the young talent.
In Los Angeles, Collison will be in familiar territory since he played four years of college basketball at UCLA. He is a speedy point guard who is outstanding at driving to the hoop and definitely looks for his shot. His counterpart this year will be a former college rival, O.J. Mayo, who played ball at USC. Mayo is a streaky shooter who is not afraid of taking big shots; he will probably try to carry the scoring load with Nowitzki sidelined. With a field goal percentage of 40.8 percent last year, Mayo may benefit from better shot selection.
Key to Lakers’ Victory:
Fantastic Four Chemistry: The Lakers starters will probably take some time before melding into a championship level squad. Tonight could be the start of something special, and it’ll be exciting to see how the pieces of the puzzle start fitting together.
Some things to look for: If Kobe plays, will he defer to Nash as the primary ball handler and play off the ball? How many pick and rolls will Nash and Howard run? Will Gasol and Howard complement one another like many expect? How many open threes will Metta World Peace knock down?
Bench Contribution: Mavs rookie Jae Crowder looks like he could contribute immediately off the bench. Will the Lakers’ bench be outmatched by a rookie? The bench was supposedly bolstered this off-season, but they didn’t show any progression during the preseason.
Antawn Jamison needs to establish himself as the leader of the second unit and contribute in a meaningful way. As a starter in Cleveland, Jamison averaged 17.3 points, 1.4 threes and 6.3 rebounds. He certainly has the ability to be a solid contributor, it’s just a question about how he will fit into the rotation.
Jordan Hill was superb for the Lakers at the tail end of last season. He will be called on to relieve Howard and could find himself playing close to 20 minutes a game. Devin Ebanks is another key bench player for the Lakers this year, but it remains to be seen if he has made the jump and matured in his third season. Tonight will be a great test for the Lakers bench.
Dallas Mavericks (0-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
7:30 PM PST, October 30, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Mavericks Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Darren Collison
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Elton Brand
C: Eddy Curry
Key Reserves: SF Vince Carter, F Jae Crowder
Exclusive Practice Video: Metta World Peace talks about new piece of the offense…leaves Steve Nash confused