Though the season is only just beginning, there is no shortage of question marks surrounding these two franchises.
Can the Dallas Mavericks survive without Dirk Nowitzki? Will Kobe Bryant's foot prevent him from playing at a high-level, or will it prevent him from playing at all? Who will emerge as Dallas' leader in Nowitzki's absence? Have the Lakers yet to establish any semblance of comfort within the Princeton offense?
And that's just to name to name to few.
Which makes this game must-see TV.
Time: Tuesday, October 30 at 10:30 p.m. EDT
Records: Dallas Mavericks (0-0), Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
Betting Line: Lakers -8½ (via Vegas.com)
Injuries: Mavericks: Chris Kaman (back), out; Dirk Nowitzki (knee), out.
Lakers: Kobe Bryant (foot), questionable; Early Clark (groin), questionable; Jordan Hill (back), questionable; Dwight Howard (back), probable; Metta World Peace (finger), probable.
Key Storylines: Health of the Lakers
Los Angeles' re-tooled roster looks great on paper, but Bryant, Hill, Howard and World Peace are all suffering or recovering from some type of injury.
The Lakers need all of them—three of which are projected starters—at their best so the team can begin to establish some much needed chemistry.
Remember, Howard only saw the light of two preseason games, and as the focal point of Los Angeles' offense, he'll have some catching up to do.
Factor in Kobe's injured foot, and you have a prolific roster that has to overcome a bounty of obstacles early on just to grab its first win of the season.
Mavericks beginning life without Dirk Nowitzki
It's no secret that Nowitzki is the heart and soul of the Dallas franchise, especially after a second-straight summer that saw the Mavericks' roster nearly depleted through free agency.
But he'll be watching from the sidelines as he recovers from knee surgery.
With so many new faces, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the team's primary leader. The smart money says O.J. Mayo, but he's always been a roller coaster ride of a player, so nothing's guaranteed there.
Dallas' mission without Nowitzki entails keeping its head far enough above water so the team can make a playoff push when he returns.
And that mission, possible or not, begins here against the Lakers.
Key Matchup: Kobe Bryant, SG vs. O.J. Mayo, SG
With Nowitzki out of the lineup, Mayo has instantly become Dallas' first offensive option. Though the Lakers may opt to put their best perimeter defender in World Peace on the undeniably athletic scorer, Bryant is likely to spend ample time in front of him as well.
While Kobe is a staunch defender himself, he's nursing a strained right foot that forced him to sit out of Los Angeles' final two preseason games. If his injury prevents him from making the sharp lateral movements necessary to guard baseline-prone Mayo, things could get ugly for the Lakers real quick.
Or even worse, Bryant could aggravate his current impediment and be relegated to the sidelines for an extended period of time.
On the flip side, though, injured or not, Kobe remains the Lakers' most lethal perimeter scoring threat. Mayo, a sound defender as well, will undoubtedly be tasked with keeping Bryant in line.
As Los Angeles continues to learn the inner workings of the Princeton offense, Kobe may not be as comfortable as he normally is on that side of the floor.
That said, he remains one of the NBA's best scorers and has the potential to wreak havoc for both Mayo and the Mavericks early, and often.
X-Factors: Antawn Jamison, PF, Lakers
While the Mavericks are still a competitive entity without Nowitzki, his absence further depletes an already thin bench.
If Jamison can provide an offensive spark off the bench for Los Angeles, Dallas simply doesn't have the proven firepower necessary to match it. His rebounding abilities also become much more important should Hill be unable to suit up or not be playing at 100 percent.
And for a Lakers team that also has three injured players in the starting lineup as well, the bench's ability to produce could prove to be the difference between a victory and a loss.
Jae Crowder, SF, Mavericks
Rookie scoring sensation Crowder should see some substantial minutes in Dallas' season opener.
With Nowitzki on the bench, the Mavericks lack a versatile scoring presence, even with Elton Brand stepping in, which makes the rookie very important to Dallas' offensive success.
At 6'6", Crowder can step back and hit the three, but is also adept at attacking and even setting up shop with his back to the basket. He put points up in a hurry at the Las Vegas Summer League and continued to do so throughout the preseason.
His dribble penetration also creates scoring opportunities for his teammates as well.
For a Mavericks bench that is anything but deep, his offensive efficiency will prove essential to keeping this matchup competitive.
Pau Gasol, PF, Lakers
On a night when Gasol would normally be tasked with defending—or at least helping defend—Nowitzki, he will now be matched up against the shorter, visibly less effective Brand.
Though Brand should be an easier defensive assignment for Gasol, he's still a strong post scorer and rebounder, meaning the big man on a redemption mission must not fall asleep.
More importantly, though, with Bryant, Howard and even World Peace hurting, Gasol needs to use his height advantage to Los Angeles' offensive advantage. He'll be depended upon to score more than he normally would, especially should Bryant find himself out of the lineup.
And if he can score, the Lakers can. Easily.
Shawn Marion, SF, Mavericks
The Lakers could be down Bryant and Howard may not even be as effective as he should be, but nonetheless, Los Angeles has one of the league's most offensive attacks.
Enter Marion, Dallas' most skilled defender, who will be asked to defend, well, everyone.
Marion is one of the few athletes who can defend every position, and when the Mavericks need help in the post, he'll be there to help double-team, or even go one-on-one. And when Darren Collison gets burned by Steve Nash, he'll be expected to be there to help pick up the slack.
The same goes for Bryant, who again, even with a tender foot, will be a tough assignment for Mayo.
Simply put, if Dallas wants to have any kind of chance at snagging an opening-night victory on the road, especially with Chris Kaman on the sidelines, Marion will need to be everywhere and do everything on defense.
Depth Charts: Here's a look at both Lakers and Mavericks' most recent depth charts.
Prediction: Lakers 96, Mavericks 83
The Lakers are still working out the kinks of their Princeton offensive sets, which is great news for the Mavericks.
That said, Nash is a facilitating genius, and should have no problem deviating from the blueprint if he sees it isn't working.
It also doesn't work that after falling to Dallas in the 2010-11 playoffs, Los Angeles has won four straight against Mark Cuban's minions.
Though I don't expect the Nowitzki-less Mavericks to be a pushover, their cause is greatly damaged by the fact that I cannot imagine Kobe missing opening night for anything.
And he, coupled with the likes of Gasol, Nash and a healthier Howard will simply prove to be too much for a Dallas team still searching for an identity and adapting to life without its cornerstone.
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