It's a rematch of opening night, as the Los Angeles Lakers continue their road trip and head to the Lone Star State to face the Dallas Mavericks. The young and feisty Mavs took advantage of the Lakers' failed Princeton offense on October 30, using a fast-paced game to come away with a 99-91 victory.
But that was against the old Lakers. Mike Brown and the Princeton offense are gone, replaced by the run-and-gun game of Mike D'Antoni. Since Brown's firing, the Lakers have gone 5-3.
Contrastingly, the Mavericks have come back down to Earth following a 4-1 start, having gone 3-5 since.
The Lakers have indeed looked better as of late but still have a few major humps to overcome. The team has lost two straight games and has yet to win a game on the road. The Lakers will thus look to take full advantage of a young Mavericks team that is without star forward Dirk Nowitzki and clearly misses his presence.
The stage is set for a high-scoring game, and a win for either team would stir up a lot of momentum. With balance and depth on both sides, the team that simply wants it more will win.
Time: Saturday, November 24th, 8:30 p.m. EST
TV: Fox Sports Southwest, Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (6-7) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7-6)
Betting Lines: Los Angeles (-1.5), Dallas (+1.5), via Bovada
Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki (knee, out), Troy Murphy (illness, doubtful), Steve Nash (leg, out), Steve Blake (abdomen, out)
Key Storyline: Lakers Look to Get Back on Winning Track With 1st Road Win of Season
Though the Lakers have responded well to Mike D'Antoni's offense, their troubles on the road have lingered. Compared to a 6-3 record at the Staples Center, Los Angeles is 0-4 on the road.
Granted, the team went 15-18 on the road in 2012, but it was 27-14 away from home in 2011. This season's struggles aside, Los Angeles is beyond capable of playing well on the road.
That makes it all the more important that the Lakers wrap up their road trip with a win tonight. Their next game is at home and not until Tuesday, so a victory would allow them to rest a little easier in the following days.
More importantly, a loss tonight would extend Los Angeles' losing streak to three games and put the Lakers two games under .500. They are a better team than that and know it well.
Los Angeles will thus play with some fire in their collective bellies tonight, stopping at nothing to move past Dallas' youth and head back home as winners.
Against Dallas, which is 5-2 at home, the Lakers had better be ready for a long battle.
Key Matchup: Kobe Bryant vs. O.J. Mayo
Once again, the matchup in this epic game will be one of fiery youth vs. tested experience. O.J. Mayo has done a fine job of stepping up in his teammate Dirk Nowitzki's absence, averaging 22.2 points per game and shooting an astounding 57 percent from three-point range. He is also leading the league in three-pointers made, having shown great improvement and discipline in shouldering the offensive load.
He's going to have to work extra hard tonight, as he will be covered by none other than the Black Mamba himself. Kobe Bryant has adjusted quite well to D'Antoni's offense, having another great year in the scoring department. He is leading the league in scoring at 27.5 points per game and is also averaging 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
Bryant has been great on defense, per usual, averaging 1.5 steals per contest. He has been named to the all-defensive first team 10 times, and will use that experience to try to take Mayo out of the game.
That isn't to say that Mayo will crumble once Bryant starts playing some lockdown D. He has done a fine job of picking his shots wisely this year and has come a long way in terms of creating his own shot. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and looks like a complete shooting guard.
It is thus all the more important that Bryant do everything he can to make Mayo take risky shots from start to finish. Mayo is Dallas' best offensive catalyst, and there is nobody else on the team who can step up and score consistently.
If Bryant can take him out of the game to a certain degree, then it's suddenly going to become a lot harder for Dallas to win.
X-Factor: Kobe Bryant
Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun offense is a guard's system, so it is absolutely critical that Bryant have a productive game. While Steve Nash is still injured, he is the leader on the floor and the table-setter for plays that will result in points for the Lakers.
The five-time champion will fortunately not have to deal with a pesky defender, as defense has never really been part of Mayo's game. The only way he can really have a bad game is if his shots simply aren't falling.
Bryant must also be ready to pass the ball. He has two fine teammates in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, and even Metta World Peace appears to be rejuvenated in D'Antoni's system. If the four can make a collective effort to play hard and do all they can to ensure a win, then the Lakers will come away with a win and look like a championship-caliber team.
However, this will only happen if Bryant is ready to fully adapt to his new coach's game. In the Lakers' Friday-night loss against the Memphis Grizzlies, he looked a bit too much like the Kobe Bryant of old. He took too many shots, missing more than he made, and registered just four assists.
The only bright spot in Bryant's games were his 14 trips to the free-throw line, but that wasn't enough to bring home a win.
The man just needs to put that game behind him and come into the game against Dallas with a new attitude.
If he comes in looking to be the lone hero, then the Lakers will be sunk on the road yet again.
The Lakers may have looked slow and sluggish against the Dallas Mavericks when the season started, but tonight will be different. Even without experienced point men Nash and Steve Blake, Los Angeles will come together against the young Mavs and give them a lesson in offense.
Who will win?
The run-and-gun game will be in full swing as World Peace provides some fine work from beyond the arc, with Bryant slashing and shooting his way up the scoreboard. He will also be a fine leader and distribute the ball as necessary.
Pau Gasol will get his wish and receive more playing time in the post (via ESPN), slowly becoming a force on defense throughout the game. Dwight Howard will be the star on the defensive side and also chip in his fair share of scoring.
Dallas will put up one good effort, with Mayo still scoring his fair share of points despite having an off field-goal percentage for the game, but Darren Collison and Chris Kaman will do all they can to make up for it.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, it's not going to be enough. Each team plays a fast-paced game, but the Lakers' will be faster.
Los Angeles Lakers 116, Dallas Mavericks 108