Lakers Vs. Mavericks Preview: D’Angelo Russell Out In Pivotal Western Conference Battle
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers continue their stretch of must-wins as they take on the new-look Dallas Mavericks in a Sunday afternoon bout.

The Mavericks made one of the biggest splashes of the NBA trade deadline when they sent Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Kyrie Irving. Dallas now has a one-two punch of Irving and Luka Doncic, arguably the most talented duo in the league right now.

But the Lakers made a splash of their own and are 3-1 since acquiring D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba at the trade deadline. However, the Lakers won’t have Russell in the lineup on Sunday after suffering a mild right ankle sprain against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

The Lakers have a fully healthy lineup beyond Russell. But with their starting point guard missing in a game against a team built around a guard duo, L.A. must get increased contributions from their other guards, including Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves and Malik Beasley.

The Mavericks are without a pair of forwards in Maxi Kleber and Davis Bertans, leaving them with an extremely thin frontcourt rotation of Dwight Powell, Christian Wood, Markieff Morris and JaVale McGee.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both in the lineup, should be the controlling force of this afternoon affair. Dallas won’t have much defensively for either player, as Josh Green, Reggie Bullock and Tim Hardaway Jr. are likely going to be tasked with sizing up James.

L.A.’s offense should not have much difficulty stringing together scores. It’s the defense that may struggle to keep up. The Mavericks are averaging 122 points per game since Irving was introduced to the lineup, and that includes just one game with both Doncic and Irving playing alongside one another.

Luckily, the Lakers starting foursome of James, Davis, Beasley and Vanderbilt have been nearly flawless in their short time together. In 21 minutes, this unit has an offensive rating of 125, but more importantly a defensive rating of just 93.3, good enough for a 31.7 net rating. It’s the team’s best lineup with at least 20 minutes together in the last five games.

As is the case with almost every game from here on out, a win would have a huge effect on the standings in the Western Conference. If L.A. defeats Dallas, they would jump both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder to the No. 11 spot, provided the Thunder lose to the Sacramento Kings Sunday evening. They would also move just 2.5 games back of the Mavericks for the No. 6 seed.

A loss would effectively end their bid to avoid the Play-In Tournament outright, but would still keep them in the race for the 7-10 spots.

Los Angeles Lakers (28-32) vs. Dallas Mavericks (32-29)

12:30 p.m. PT, Sunday, Feb. 26
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:

PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: LeBron James
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Anthony Davis

Key Reserves: Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Mo Bamba, Troy Brown Jr., Lonnie Walker IV

Projected Mavericks Starting Lineup:

PG: Kyrie Irvine
SG: Luka Doncic
SF: Justin Holiday
PF: Reggie Bullock
C: Dwight Powell

Key Reserves: Christian Wood, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Frank Ntilikina

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