As the final games of the season wind down in the NBA, one of the closest playoff position races in the league is for the second seed in the Western Conference. Pending the outcome of tonight’s Mavericks-Clippers game, The No. 3-seeded Dallas Mavericks (52-21) have a shot to gain momentum against the No. 2-seeded Los Angeles Lakers (53-20) when the teams play Thursday.
A Mavs win Wednesday night would give Dallas a chance to tie LA for the No. 2 seed Thursday and give Dallas the tiebreaker with a 2-1 advantage in head-to-head matchups.
With the No. 1-seeded Spurs sliding into the playoffs with a four-game losing streak and Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess all sidelined with injuries, there now seems to be the slightest of chances the Lakers or Mavs could catch the Spurs for the No. 1 seed in the West.
With all factors taken into consideration, Thursday’s showdown at the Staples Center is by far the biggest game of the season for Dallas. Dallas brings its NBA-best 26-10 road record to Los Angeles tonight.
What will decide the regular season L.A.-Dallas series, and more importantly, whether Dallas is a championship contender or playoff pretender, hinges on the performance of the Dallas offense, which needs everyone on board to put up points.
In a 109-100 win against the Lakers on Jan. 19, Dallas veterans Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry all scored 20-plus points. Kidd shot 5-for-8 from three-point land and Terry rained down deep shots, going 4-for-6 from behind the arc. That needs to be replicated to defeat the Lakers on Thursday.
A statistical argument can be made that Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler are no matches in the paint against the Lakers’ Andrew Byrum and Pau Gasol.
In the case of the Mavs’ 96-91 loss to the Lakers on March 12, the stats didn’t lie, as the Lakers’ big men out-rebounded Dallas’ on the defensive glass. However, in the case of the 109-100 win on Jan. 19, Dallas had its big men perform in the clutch as Nowitzki and Chandler out-rebounded Bryum and Gasol by a total of six rebounds. More importantly, Chandler pulled down six offensive rebounds in that game, allowing for more Dallas offensive opportunities 8212; the key to winning against the Lakers.
In the two matchups of the season so far, L.A.’s big men have outscored Dallas’ big men, 73-49. If Dallas can get rebounds and get its guards play well, perhaps there is a shot.
In addition to production from the guards and rebounding from the big men, it would be nice if the young guys stepped up, too. Rodrigue Beaubois was still getting back in game shape after breaking his foot in January and only scored two points against Los Angeles in March. Reserve guard J.J. Barea has yet to score more than seven points against the Lakers and has yet to record more than one assist against them this season.
Beaubois and Barea’s production will be critical against the Lakers on Thursday. While the Mavs will be playing their second game of back-to-back games, the Lakers will be fresh after having three days off since their last game against New Orleans. When the veterans are resting up during the game, Beaubois and Barea will be the main line of defense against Los Angeles. They need to bring an offensive presence to the Mavericks in order to keep consistent pressure against the Lakers. If they can’t, the Lakers will be able to rest up their star players in order to counter the stars of the Mavericks.
The path for the Mavs to defeat the Lakers is not impossible, but will be a difficult task. Dallas is capable of defeating Los Angeles, but unless the Dallas guards are sharp from the perimeter, the big men can pull in rebounds and the young players can bring consistent pressure, the Mavericks playoff path will likely include four road games in Los Angeles.
J.D. Moore is a freshman journalism major from Honolulu, Hawaii and a writer for SportDFW.com.