With a little more than a third of the season in the books, the Lakers and Mavs are headed in opposite directions. While both teams feature superstars at the tail ends of their careers, the Mavs are playoff-bound while the Lakers continue to pile up the losses en route to the lottery. The Mavs are serious about competing for a championship and they made that clear with their recent acquisition of Rajon Rondo. As expected, they have faced their share of growing pains, losing two of their last three games as they attempt to integrate their new star player. This is an opportune time for the Lakers to pick up a win as the Mavs should be humming along more smoothly by the time these two teams meet again in March.
Frontcourt: A future first ballot hall of famer, Dirk Nowitzki has been the heart and soul of the Mavericks during his tenure in the league. And despite being a whopping 36 years old (the same age as Kobe Bryant), he has continued to be a productive and efficient player. Through 28 games this season, he is averaging 18.6 points in a limited 29.6 minutes a game. His three point shooting has dipped a little this season, but any casual fan of the league knows how dangerous he is from beyond the arc. Like most teams, the Lakers lack the length to really bother his patented fadeaway mid range, which is perhaps the most unguardable shot in the league. They will simply have to do their best to keep Nowitzki from catching the ball in his comfort zones.
Tyson Chandler has been a tremendous asset to a Mavs team looking to compete now. Since the departure of Brandan Wright in the trade that brought Rajon Rondo over, Chandler’s minutes have been inching up. Offensively, he is little more than a finisher and a clean-up guy on the glass as evidenced by his 68.1% field goal shooting. That said, he makes his money on the defensive end, where he regularly changes shots and pulls down boards. He is third in the league in rebounds per game at 11.9.
Chandler Parsons gets the start at small forward and has proven to be an above average player and shooter. That said, he has struggled through three games alongside Rajon Rondo. It seems like he will have to make the biggest adjustment as he has scored in single digits in two out of those three games. In addition to averaging just 9.0 points in that span against his season average of 15.9, he also averaged 3.0 turnovers against a season average of 1.3.
Backcourt: The Mavs went all in this season with their blockbuster trade for Rajon Rondo. They’ve made it clear that they intend to compete for a championship in the twilight of Nowitzki’s prime. Rondo adds a playmaking element to the point guard position that the Mavs have lacked since their championship run with Jason Kidd at the helm. The league leader in assists at 10.6 a game, Rondo faces a bit of a learning curve as he acquaints himself with his new teammates’ tendencies on the offensive end. However, like the aforementioned Kidd, Rondo is a tenacious rebounder and intense defensive player. He leads all guards in rebounding with an eye-popping average of 7.3 a game.
Like Parsons, Monta Ellis may have to do some adjusting with the addition of Rondo. He had one stellar game in which he dropped 38 points, followed by two duds. That said, he is still getting his shots, averaging nearly 21 shots a game in the three games since Rondo’s arrival. He is a natural born scorer who can more than take on the scoring load for both himself and his backcourt mate. The league needs to be wary of this duo as they will be a very dangerous backcourt come playoff time once they’ve had a chance to gel.
Keys to Victory:
Keep Rondo off of the Glass: A nightly triple double threat, Rondo is a handful to deal with in all facets of the game. His rebounding is perhaps the most impressive part of his game as he stands a mere 6’1”. Nowitzki’s rebounding has fallen off quite a bit in recent years and beyond Chandler, the Mavs frontcourt isn’t particularly great at clearing the glass. Rondo can be a big part of their team rebounding efforts if given the opportunity, so the Lakers will need to put a body on him as soon as a shot goes up to keep him from grabbing long rebounds. This will be especially critical on the Lakers’ offensive end where a long Rondo rebound will likely result in him pushing the tempo in the other direction.
Offensive Efficiency: The Lakers had the biggest surprise win of their season in a 115-105 thrashing of the Warriors this past Tuesday without Kobe Bryant. The score doesn’t even do justice to the one-sided nature of the game as the Lakers won by ten points even after getting outscored by twelve in the fourth quarter. The Lakers’ offensive efficiency was stellar as they went 51.7% from the field and 46.2% from deep as a team. They also dished out 28 assists in the game as every player seemed to play unrestrained and without the tentativeness they seem to have when Bryant is on the floor. Sadly, the Lakers sans Bryant flopped on Christmas day, shooting a dismal 39.1% from the field, albeit against a very good defensive team in the Bulls. All in all, the team is somewhere in between and with Bryant not expected to suit up tonight, the Lakers will have a chance to show that they more closely resemble the unselfish team that beat the Warriors than the one that got thrashed by the Bulls.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-20) at Dallas Mavericks (20-10)
5:30 PM PST, December 26, 2014
American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Mavericks Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Monta Ellis
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Tyson Chandler
Key Reserves: PG: Devin Harris, PG: J.J. Barea, SF: Richard Jefferson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
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