How crazy is it that Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki have never played each other in the playoffs?
After a surprisingly difficult first-round matchup with the Hornets, the Lakers look forward to the next team that stands in the way of their three-peat.
As for the Mavericks, many expected them to be upset by the lower-seeded Trail Blazers. Dallas proved the doubters wrong and have advanced to the conference semifinals. Do they have what it takes to upset the mighty Lakers?
I think not.
Here are five reasons why the Lakers will easily beat the Mavericks.
During the Lakers-Hornets series, Andrew Bynum showed the world why the Lakers have repeatedly refused to trade him.
Bynum elevated his game for the playoffs and averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game during the Hornets series.
He dominated the paint on defense and showed his full array of skills on offense. He had no problem scoring in the post and even stepped out a few feet to hit an occasional jump shot.
Bynum was brilliant against a solid defender in Emeka Okafor. In Round 2, Tyson Chandler has the privilege of trying to stop the Lakers center.
Chandler is a decent defender, but not as good as Okafor. During the regular season, he averaged only 1.1 blocks per game compared to Okafor’s 1.8.
If Bynum dominated Okafor, what will happen to Chandler and the rest of the Mavs front line?
The 38-year-old Jason Kidd had some phenomenal performances in the first round of the playoffs.
In Game 1, Kidd shot 9-of-14 from the field and 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. He finished with 24 points—more points than he scored in a game all year.
Kidd struck again in Game 2, scoring 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Both games were very close and Kidd was the difference maker as the Mavericks prevailed in both.
In his 17-year career, Kidd has shot only 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from downtown. During the 2010-2011, season he averaged only eight points per game.
Those are the kind of numbers we can expect from Kidd in the conference semifinals.
Pau Gasol averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds per game during the playoffs last year.
In Games 1 and 2 of the Hornets series, he averaged eight points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
At the beginning of the series, Gasol looked awful. He settled for outside jumpers, didn't look aggressive and was pushed around by an undersized Carl Landry. As the series went on, Gasol got better but he still wasn’t his usual self.
Pau is too good of a player not to bounce back in Round 2.
The Mavs will focus a lot of attention on Bynum, and they don't have a good defender to match up with Gasol. Chandler would be ideal, but he will have his hands full with Bynum. Dirk can match Gasol's height, but is a poor post defender.
Gasol will have his way against the Mavericks, and Lakers fans will quickly forget the frustrations they had with him in Round 1.
Why is Kobe's ankle a reason the Lakers will beat the Mavericks?
First of all, Bryant’s ankle injury in Game 4 was a gut check.
His teammates didn’t know what they were going to get out of Kobe and realized that they needed to step up their game. Their was a slight feeling of panic that helped the Lakers regain their focus and dominate the two games following Kobe's injury.
Going forward, they will be more focused as they realize that their championship hopes can be dashed by the turn of an ankle.
The second reason?
I don’t think Kobe’s ankle is really that bad. Kobe proved in Game 5 that he was just fine and can still get it done. His amazing dunk over Okafor was a turning point in the series.
Bryant takes better care of his body than any other player in the NBA. He has a personal medical staff that ensures he gets the best treatment.
He will have had a few days of rest and rehab, but come Monday, he will show up ready to play.
The Lakers and Mavericks squared off in Los Angeles on March 31. There were only a few games left in the season and the Lakers held a half-game edge over the Mavs for the No. 2 seed.
While the game had playoff implications, the Mavs looked nothing like a playoff team as the Lakers dismantled them by 28 points.
Following the game, many accused the Mavericks of being soft, including me. They were pushed around by a team that was bigger and had a greater desire to win.
While the Mavs recently closed out the Portland Trail Blazers, they almost let Game 6 slip away. They struggled to secure rebounds, which let the Blazers back in the game and almost forced a Game 7.
The Lakers-Mavs series will come down to size and strength—the Lakers have it and the Mavericks don't. The front line of LA will not be stopped and they will dominate the Dallas defenders.
The Lakers will win in five games and the Mavericks will be stuck with their inescapable label—"soft."