The last time these two teams squared off against one another, four players were ejected.
With the Lakers holding a comfortable 90-73 lead in the fourth quarter, Steve Blake drove to the basket, past the cement-shoed Jason Terry, who, being beat, pushed Blake in the back to the hardwood.
Tempers flared, testosterone levels quickly rose, and a chest-bumping match quickly ensued between Blake and Terry.
As Jack Nicholson looked on through purple lenses, the confrontation escalated. Skinny Artest, also known as Matt Barnes, came to Blake’s aid, charging after Terry like a pissed off Spanish bull, nostrils flaring. Brendan Haywood met Barnes, pointing his finger at him as Barnes walked the sidelines of the Mavericks bench when Mavericks assistant coach, Terry Stotts, attempted to calm Barnes, and was slung to the ground. An oval mouthed Mark Cuban cried all the while in the background behind the Mavericks bench.
Off to the locker room went Blake, Barnes, Terry, and Haywood. That was March 31.
On May 2, the two will meet again in the Western Conference semifinals. But let us not confuse the Mavericks’ late game demeanor on March 31 with toughness. Terry’s cheap shot was out of frustration. Dallas would go on to lose by 28 points, 110-82, shooting just 36.1% from the floor (6-26 from three). It seemed the only area of the game they were efficient in was committing fouls, 27, allowing the Lake Show 39 chances at freebies.
If the March 31 contest can serve as the shape of things to come, let us rub this crystal ball and garner it for all she’s worth.
Jason Kidd vs. Derek Fisher
Neither can move the way they did ten years ago but both Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher are savvy veterans who pick their spots and pick them well. With that said, Kidd has the upper hand in that he impacts the outcome of a Mavericks win or loss in a much greater way than does Fish for the Lakers.
Kidd’s improved outside shooting makes him dangerous for a defender to lag off of, but he’s also a very streaky shooter. Fisher, on the other hand, doesn’t shoot often but when he does, it’s never ill-advised – and I think we all know about his clutch performances. Other than Robert Horry and Jerry West, can you name anyone other than Derek Fisher you’d rather have the ball with under three seconds to go and zero timeouts and a full court to sprint down? Your thoughts Jameer Nelson? Manu Ginobli?
Still, the Mavericks don’t win without a big contribution from Kidd. He’ll notch a triple-double or near close to one in at least two games. Fisher serves a different purpose; and although his role is just as vital, it has more to do with his leadership in the locker room and on the court than how many points, assists, and steals he racks up.
ADVANTAGE: Dallas Mavericks
DeShawn Stevenson vs. Kobe Bryant
Do I even need to waste my breath?
I will anyway.
I can’t even get DeShawn Stevenson to drop more than three points in practice mode on NBA 2K11 for Playstation 3, so don’t expect for the 6’5” wing to go bananas starting Monday night. Then again, the tattoo of our nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, on Stevenson’s neck explains it all. Ole Abe is worth five and so is Stevenson’s offensive output, unleashing 5.2 ppg. for the 2010-11 season.
But let’s be real: Stevenson isn’t in town for his offense. He gets the defensive assignment, and that assignment is you know who.
Kobe. Well, The Black Mamba’s a different story altogether. In my magic crystal ball, I’m foreseeing at least one vintage Kobe output in this series. Don’t be surprised if #24 goes for 52 or 53 one night. Sure, it’s not 2007 and we’re unlikely to see him drop 62 through three quarters but just as he went soaring through the air for a thunderous jam against Emeka Okafor in Round 1 against the New Orleans Hornets, to think there’s not a little bit of mustard left in his game is to be mistaken.
Sure, Kobe put up some stinkers against the Mavs this year (6-20 FG in 33 min and 8-21 FG in 30 min) but both were in wins: the former a 96-91 win at Dallas and the latter in a 110-82 routing in Los Angeles. That tells you something: that the Lakers are balanced enough for Kobe to stink it up and still get the W.
Let Dirk Nowitzki drop sulfur bombs and the Mavs lose. They don’t have the same balanced attack. Take, for example, their two losses in which The Big German goes for 25 pts (10-19 FG) and 27 pts (10-20 FG). The Mavericks leave with their tail between their legs.
ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers
Shawn Marion vs. Ron Artest
Marion played reluctant in the first three games of the Portland series, averaging 7.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Redeeming himself in the final three games, he averaged 14.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg. For the Mavericks to stand a fighting chance against the Lakers, Marion will need to mirror his last three games against Portland or better. Considering Marion is averaging 18.7 ppg (at nearly 60% shooting) and 6.7 rpg against the Lakers this year, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Where he’ll need to excel, however, is on defense.
Expect Carlisle to place Marion on Bryant at times as well as Odom. His length and athleticism should pose a problem for Bryant, whereas against Odom, the advantage is neutralized.
Say Artest and you instantly think defense (or crazy or The Malice at the Palace). He’ll kiss his guns a couple of times in this series, most likely after manhandling Peja Stojakovic on a key fourth quarter possession. Artest is a pesky defender with quick hands and Stojakovic saves his best choke jobs for the playoffs. The only hope for Peja is if he can literally get Artest to wrap his hands around his neck and choke Peja all the way to a two-game suspension. But I don’t see it happening. That’s in the past for Artest who is fresh off winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.
ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles, for the sole reason that defense runs the show in the playoffs. Even with the extra miles on his boots, Artest still has enough in his tank to get under the skin of multiple players at multiple positions (PG, SG, SF, PF), including Nowitzki.
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol
Both are routinely criticized for “playing soft.” It’s a European thing. Like listening to the music of David Hasselhoff or still wearing Zubaz zebra-striped workout pants with the elastic ankle ban at the gym.
Seriously, I once saw a film clip of Nowitzki wearing Zubaz pants working out.
The reality is Gasol’s a long string bean, so unless he gains 40 lbs. of muscle, that perception isn’t changing. It has more to do with how he looks than how he plays. The Big German, on the other hand, simply isn’t a true post player – not that he can’t do some damage on the block. Would you believe his basketball idol growing up was none other than Scottie Pippen. ‘Tis true.
And what’s so bad about not being a post player if you’re 7’0” tall and can stroke it from the perimeter with 40% accuracy? Yeah, it kills you on the glass in one regard but it also helps you on the glass in the other regard, pulling the opposing team’s big man out there with you.
Gasol wins the battle in the paint. Nowitzki wins it on the perimeter. And the last time I checked, three points is worth more than two. But the again, I have dyscalculia so what do I know?
ADVANTAGE: Dallas Mavericks — but only by a hair.
Tyson Chandler vs. Andrew Bynum
This, my friends, is the key matchup. Since the All-Star break, Bynum has been a stone cold killer. Think Clint Eastwood, only taller. Wearing shorts. Who somewhat resembles Tracy Morgan. Bynum seems to save his best games for Dallas, averaging 16.7 ppg and 11.7 rpg, shooting a ridiculous 70.4% from the field.
I love Chandler to death, I really do. I take that back. I love my wife, daughter, and dog. But Chandler, as good as he is on the defensive end, cannot match up with Bynum. Bynum was the Lakers’ MVP in their series against New Orleans and might as well be their MVP in this one. Quit your jawing Colin Cowherd.
ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers
As good as Jason Terry is, Lamar Odom is better. He’s big. He’s long. He’s athletic. He can rebound. He can get out and run it as well as any point guard in the league – at 6’10”. Odom is the perfect fit for the Lakers triangle offense off the bench. Coming off the Sixth Man of the Year Award, look for Odom to continue the Lakers run to their third straight championship.
Best of the rest: Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes give the Lakers added depth, primarily so from a defensive standpoint. Sure, Dallas has some nice talent coming off their bench as well with JJ Barea and Peja Stojakovic, in addition to Terry, but like I said before, defense runs the show in the playoffs and none of these guys can match the Lake Show in that department.
But hell, who doesn’t like seeing Barea zip around like a little fruit fly out there?
ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers
Rick Carlisle vs. Phil Jackson
Sorry Rick, but The Zen Master only wins in threes and well, you’re sort of in his way. As the Buddha once said, “I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.” And what remains for Jackson to do is win his twelfth championship ring as a head coach.
P.S. If this matchup were Red Auerbach vs. Phil Jackson, I’d still pick The Zen Master. That’s right. I said it.
ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers