Photo by AP

Lakers and Mavericks clash in battle of benches

Los Angeles, California. Dallas, Texas. The two biggest media markets on this side of the Mississippi River.

Here they are, 23 years after their last playoff meeting, playing each other once again, with much at stake.

Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP

Can the Lakers three-peat? Will they step up their intensity against a much stronger foe? Will Kobe’s ankle and Bynum’s knee be OK? What about Pau’s pride and ego?

Will the Mavericks finally beat a team better than them? Can Dirk lead his team to a title? Will these Mavs vanish the soft label from Big D? Is Jason Terry a punk?

These are all formidable questions deserving of answers.

Starting tonight at 7:30 pm at Staples Center, our questions will be answered.

Without further ado, here are the five main keys to this series:

1. Battle of the benches

The Mavericks had arguably the top bench this season, averaging over 40 points per game, and featuring the likes of Jason Terry, Peja Stojackovic, J.J. Barea and Brendan Haywood (wait, he’s still in the NBA?).

The Lakers, on the other hand, boast the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year (Lamar Odom) as well a group of Killer B’s (Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown).

Photo by AP

Basically, both benches will have huge implications on how successful each team is.

The Mavericks bench is full of offensive game-changers. Terry, Stojackovic and Barea are each capable of coming in and dropping 10-15 points on the Lakers’ reserves. Haywood, when motivated, is a 7’0”, 270+ lb. behemoth center who’s sole job is to rebound and defend.

In lamen’s terms, the Mavs’ bench needs to put up 30-40 points for them to win (or somewhere in that ballpark).

Conversely, the Lakers bench has a moderately smaller role. Besides Odom, no Killer B is expected to put up double-digit scoring nights. In fact, anytime they do, it’s just gravy.

Their job is to come in and run the offense (Blake in particular), hustle and play pesky defense (Barnes) and spell a few minutes for the league’s best closer (Brown).

Oh yeah, and don’t forget about the bad blood between Terry and Blake, and Terry and Barnes.

From Game 1 until Game 7 (if there is one), the battle of the benches will be a deciding factor. Whoever’s bench scores more, plays better defense, and out-hustles their opponent will have the upper hand.

Advantage: Slightly Dallas

2. The Leading Man

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Jason Kidd vs. Derek Fisher.

Two seasoned veterans, floor generals and leaders. Also two players defying the laws of father time.

Both players have upped their games this postseason, with Kidd averaging 11.7 points on 48.1 percent shooting to go along with 6.5 assists. Fisher has averaged 9.3 points on 52.6 percent shooting (are you kidding me?) with 3.2 assists per game.

Can a 38-year-old hall-of-fame point guard keep this up? What about a 36-year-old five-time champion? I’m not sure.

Basically, if time is any indication, something’s got to give.

To compare the two’s careers or role’s on their team is nonsensical. Kidd is a top-10 point guard of all-time. Fisher is not. Fisher has five championship rings, Kidd has none. It’s apples and oranges people.

Which ever old man displays better leadership, defense and shooting will give their team some much needed help.

Advantage: Dallas

3. Going hard in the paint

Ah, finally a category the Lakers have an advantage in.

Photo by AP

To sum it up promptly, which threesome would you rather have, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Haywood, or Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Odom?

You pick the Lakers’ bigs in a heartbeat.

For the Mavs to compete on the boards and in the paint, Dirk will have to put on his hard hat, Haywood will have to prove he has a pulse, and Chandler will need to stay out of foul trouble (he’s their only line of interior defense).

Neither one of those scenarios is very likely.

Therefore, unless Gasol keeps wimping out, I’m saying L.A. controls the paint easily.

Advantage: Lakers

4. The Most Valuable Player

Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, your back-to-back MVPs in 2007 and 2008.

But this is 2011, and both have aged quickly in the past three or four seasons. Neither is quite capable of dominating a game like they used to, but luckily, both have superior supporting casts then they have in the past.

At the same time, who is going to be more brilliant in this series?

History says Bryant, but logic may say Nowitzki. Nowitzki will need to carry the Mavs for them to even sniff at moving past the Lakers, while Bryant is able to rely on the shoulder loads of Bynum, Gasol and Odom (notice how I keep placing Bynum in front of Gasol? Yeah it’s because he’s better… at least right now).

Regardless of who needs to play better or who we think will play better, is who’s going to play better. That’s all that matters. We can speculate all we want, but what happens on the court is what truly makes a difference.

When all is said and done, who will perform better? Who will make the game-winning or tying jumpers? Who will lead the game in free-throws? Who will get superstar calls? Let’s wait and see.

Advantage: Slightly Lakers

5. The Media

Yup, you guessed it. The media will be a major factor in this series.

Let me rephrase. Not necessarily the media, but how it is manipulated by both ball clubs.

Photo credit to Ball Junkie

Mark Cuban vs. Phil Jackson. Need I say more? Honestly, this is going to be a fun series to follow primarily based on this match-up (so to speak). I can’t wait to see the shenanigans these two pull.

How about Ron Artest vs. everyone? Artest has called out Cuban and Kidd already, and we already know nothing Ron-Ron does can be considered a surprise. Will Cuban go off on him again?

Barnes vs. Terry. Briefly mentioned above, both guys despise each other and have publicly taken shots. Will this continue?

Both teams are controversial and always involved in the media. Don’t expect that to stop anytime soon. Let the shots begin (non-alcoholic of course).

Advantage: Slightly Lakers

All in all, this is going to be a great series, dependent on the benches, point guards, big men, superstars and media. With that said I expect L.A. to win at least three of the five main match-ups, thus moving on as the victors.

Prediction: Lakers in 6 games (Lakers win Game 1 too)

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