By John Carroll
The Mavericks beat the Lakers 93-81 in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers looked like they had no answers for the Mavs. They will be forced to write history, by being only the 4th team in NBA history to drop the first two games at home and come back to win a seven game series.
Don't count the Lakers out yet. During the regular season they found themselves losers of three in a row just before the All Star break. It was like they flipped a switch and then went on to go 17-1 after the break.
The Mavericks look ready to make a serious run at an NBA championship. The Mavericks are clicking at the right time. Dirk Nowitzki is playing at an MVP level and they are getting contributions from the entire team. If they can continue to play at such a high level they will be a tough out for any team in this years playoffs.
Game 3 Adjustments
1. The Lakers need to rethink the way they are playing Nowitzki in this series. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest have all failed at slowing down Dirk. At this point the Lakers may be forced to send double teams his way. In this series when Nowitzki has had the smaller Odom and Artest on him he has gone right to the post and shot over the smaller defenders. Phil Jackson may have to double Dirk in the post. He could use whoever is covering the offensively limited Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler to help on Dirk. As a team the Lakers would have to successfully rotate defensively but it is a risk they have to take in order to shut down Nowitzki's scoring. When Dirk is checked by Gasol he has stepped out to the perimeter and gone to work with his mid range game. The Lakers guards have to give Gasol help on the perimeter. Kobe Bryant should come double off of DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion. LA should continue to help off of Stevenson and Marion until they can prove they can hurt the Lakers by knocking down open shots. The Lakers need to make someone other then Dirk Nowitzki beat them in Game 3.
2. If Dallas wants to take a 3-0 series lead they have to do a better job defending Andrew Bynum. Chandler and Haywood need to find a way to keep Bynum from catching deep in the post. They must physically force Bynum off the block or they must find a way to get around and front the post. In Game 2 Bynum was 8-11 for 18 points but only touched the ball 15 of the 78 possessions he was on the court. I expect the Lakers will make an effort to give Bynum more post touches in game 3. Also look for the Mavericks to give help in the post whenever Gasol or Bynum catch. If the Lakers continue to shoot the ball like they did in Game 2 (2-20 from the 3 point line) the Maverick guards will dig down in the post and live with the Laker guards getting some open looks from behind the arc. If Steve Blake, Derek Fisher, and Artest can not start knocking down the open 3 pt shot the Mavericks will have a much easier time keeping Gasol and Bynum in check.
3. If they Lakers want to have any chance of winning Game 3 they must find a way to stop the Dallas pick and roll. The Mavericks blew Game 2 open in the 4th quarter due to the Lakers inability to stop the Nowitzki and Jose Juan Barea pick and roll. LA needs to find a way to keep Barea out of the paint. One option for the Lakers would be to go under the screen. This would stop Barea from getting to the rim and dare Barea to shoot from behind the screen. The Laker defenders have been so worried about Dirk as the screener that they stay too close to him and offer no help. Phil Jackson is going to have to get his defenders to come off Nowitzki and give help to stop Barea from penetrating the defense. The Lakers defense has been stretched out due to Dallas playing with multiple shooters on the floor at once. When they see the middle pick and roll they need to shrink the court and then get back to contest the outside shot. The weak side defenders for LA need to do a much better job getting off to the ball on any Dallas pick and rolls. If LA as a team can help each other on the pick the roll it will limit Tyson Chandler lobs at the rim and keep Barea out of the paint.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 3