Three people I spoke with this weekend tried to convince me that the Lakers were a great match-up for Dallas. And three times I scoffed at such a ridiculous notion. In this playoff preview, I explain why.
(2) LAL vs. (4) Dallas
There’s no question LA is in a funk. The speed New Orleans' players -- specifically Chris Paul -- displayed against the Lakers led people to say the same thing they’ve been saying for years: The Lakers are too old and fragile. Kobe can’t carry them anymore.
In the first playoff round last season, Oklahoma City caused similar problems for L.A. But Dallas simply doesn’t have the personnel to challenge the Lakers on speed and athleticism. This is a jump-shooting Mavericks team that can get hot and maybe steal one or two games, but doesn’t have the necessary skills and talent to beat L.A. four times.
The Lakers are most vulnerable to quick point guards. Jason Kidd -- for all his greatness -- is not the burner of old. He is a far more cerebral player now, relying on pick-and-rolls and angles, but not speed. Jason Terry will score, but he’ll do so off catch-and-shoot situations and pull-up jumpers, not blowing by people and finishing in the lane.
And what L.A. lacks in speed among its own players, it makes up for in depth –- specifically the number of players who can guard Dirk Nowitzki. Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Kobe -- Phil Jackson will use all three guys and others to mix up looks and force Dirk to adjust accordingly. The key for any great scorer is to find a rhythm and stay in that rhythm. When you’re forced to do so against a number of quality defenders who all pose different challenges, you then have to recapture a new flow every time.
Let’s not forget the stellar play of the Lakers’ front-line production this year, especially against Dallas. In the three regular season games they played, Andrew Bynum averaged 16.7 points and 11.7 rebounds, while shooting over 70 percent, his best percentage against any opponent he played more than once. And while Pau Gasol struggled against New Orleans, he won’t against the Mavs. He averaged 20.3 points and shot 54.5 percent this season against the Mavs.
And as good as Terry, J.J. Barea and Rodrigue Beaubois can be, they also limit Dallas’ defensive flexibility because of their lack of size -- a severe problem matching up against a Lakers team that features a slew of tall and strong wing players. Kobe and the hot-shooting Ron Artest should be very comfortable in this series.
Prediction: Lakers in five.