Coming off of an impressive win in Sacramento in which ball movement and elite play by Dwight Howard led the Los Angeles Lakers (38-36) to victory, the squad will now go back home to Staples Center on Tuesday to play the Dallas Mavericks (36-37) in a match-up that has direct implications on the western conference playoff race. The game will be televised on TNT at 7:30 PT. This is a true must-win. With upcoming games against the Grizzlies, Clippers, and Spurs remaining on the schedule, the Lakers need to take advantage of the “easier” games they have left to play. As they stand now, the Lakers and Mavs are competing with the Jazz for the 8th spot, which is projected to set-up a first-round match-up with the San Antonio Spurs. The Mavericks play the Lakers after winning a hard-fought game against the Chicago Bulls 100-98 on Saturday afternoon. Dirk Nowitzki had a throwback performance and scored 35 points, including the go-ahead three to win the game.
- Metta World Peace – Out. World Peace is still nursing a torn meniscus in his left knee and will be out for about a month longer. Let’s just say that if we see Metta again this season, good things have happened. Meeks will start at shooting guard again with Kobe starting at the small forward position. Meeks scored 13 points on Saturday–his strongest performance in three games since being promoted to the starting lineup.
- Steve Nash – Doubtful. Nash left the game against the Kings after just 1:48 of gametime after re-aggravating a hip injury that he has been nursing for about a week now. Coach Mike D’Antoni said that Nash hardly participated in practice on Monday and doesn’t expect him to play against the Mavericks. Steve Blake is the replacement and he’s been playing really well of late, knocking down his threes (44.3% in March) and making some gorgeous passes such as the one shown here, in which he finds a cutting Antawn Jamison with an unbelievable behind the back pass.
- Kobe Bryant – Probable. Kobe will play, but it’s worth noting that he’s still dealing with a nagging bone spur injury to his left foot. Several times against the Kings, Kobe looked a little slow. His jumper looked a little off as well. When he needed to, he could still step up and make a big play. For example, he threw down a monster jam in the third quarter off of a Pau Gasol pass. He also played all 48 minutes, despite playing injured. That’s Kobe for you. I’d expect a similar kind of game out of him where he looks to set up teammates often in lieu of being the primary scorer himself.
- Rodrigue Beaubois – Out. Beaubois fractured the index finger on his left hand on March 17 and is missing the rest of the regular season. The Lakers will not need to deal with the speedy guard, who averaged 9.5 PPG and 5.5 APG in two games he played against LA this season.
The Mavericks and the Lakers have a pretty extensive history in recent seasons. In this particular season, the Lakers lead the season series 2-1, with the last meeting being a 103-99 victory for the Lakers in Dallas on February 24 behind a spectacular game from Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba had an efficient 38 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists. In the two franchises’ history, the Lakers have owned, possessing a record of 103-32 over the Mavs all-time. The most recent playoff meeting was in 2011 when the Mavericks swept the Lakers as they went on to win the NBA championship. Also noteworthy in this game historically is that Shaquille O’Neal will have his number 34 retired. It’ll be the 8th different retired jersey in Lakers history. In Shaq’s eight seasons with the Lakers, LA won three titles. O’Neal led the league in scoring twice and won the league MVP in 2000 as well.
Dirk Nowitzki has been on a tear of late. The lanky sharp-shooting German power forward is averaging 23.6 PPG on an incredible 63.2% shooting from the field and 54.2% shooting from beyond the arc in his last 8 games (see shooting chart to the right), during which the Mavericks are 5-3. Dirk scored 30 points against the Lakers the last time the teams squared off against each other, but that should be different now. Pau Gasol was injured at the time and matches up much better with Nowitzki defensively than Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark could in that game. If the Lakers can cool off Dirk, they’ll have a solid chance of winning this game.
Key to Victory:
When Kobe Bryant has at least 7 assists, the Lakers are 20-9 this season. When he’s looking to be the facilitator, the Lakers are a difficult team to stop. If the opposing defense commits to double-teaming Kobe Bryant, he has the newfound ability to distribute the basketball and find teammates via the pass.
I’ve got an uncomfortable feeling about this game. The Mavericks have been playing very well lately (posting a 11-5 record in the month of March) and Dirk has been on a tear. I don’t think the Lakers win this one. Hopefully I’m wrong, but my prediction is a 108-100 Maverick victory.
Thank you for reading. My name is Skyler Gilbert. You can follow me or contact me on twitter @SkylerJGilbert for any comments or questions about the article or about the Lakers in general.