What an exciting first round of these NBA playoffs.
We saw a couple of upsets and definitely some outcomes we weren't expecting, but for the most part, the teams we thought would advance did. Of course, the Spurs getting bounced by the Grizzlies was surprising, as was the fight that the New Orleans Hornets put up against the Lakers.
I figured the Lakers would allow one game to get away from them in that opening series only because I know them, and I knew that they would come out without full effort at least once. It happened in Game 1, and fortunately, they were able to bounce back to take the series in six games.
Chris Paul reminded everyone that he was in the league and that he can still be the same player he was in 2008-2009 when he was the popular MVP pick over Kobe Bryant (even though Bryant won). The fact that Paul came alive against the Lakers was the biggest part of the series, as the Lakers have always had a problem stopping quick, agile guards.
This is where Jason Terry, JJ Barea and potentially Rodrigue Beaubois come into play. Terry has consistently lit Los Angeles up, and I expect him to average upwards of 18 points in this series.
JJ Barea is someone who plays a lot like Steve Nash and Chris Paul, two players who love to pick apart the Lakers. He is quick, plays the pick-and-roll very similarly to these two, and can get shots off despite his lack of height. The Lakers will have to key in on him if they want to win, as he can definitely be a player who can spark the Mavericks to a win or two.
As for Beaubois, he has yet to play this postseason, but coming into this season, many thought he would be a player who could slowly take over for Kidd at the point. If he hadn't gotten injured during the offseason playing in the FIBA tournament, he would be a key player on this Mavericks team.
Outside of these three, there are some obvious matchups that we need to look at:
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol
What happens here could very well determine the outcome of this series.
If Pau can show up and play hard-nosed, inspired basketball, he can help limit the impact that Nowitzki has. Pau needs to attack the basket against Dirk, as he is one of the only players at the PF position who dislikes getting physical more than Gasol. Pau needs to make him work on defense, in an attempt to help limit his offensive game.
Fortunately, the multitude of defenders they can throw at Dirk plays in their favor. They can put Pau, Lamar, Artest or Barnes on him. All players bring a different thing to the table and can potentially keep Dirk guessing offensively. I will let all Laker fans know now, however, that Dirk will still get his; hopefully it's just not as efficiently as normal.
Marion is the Mavericks' best perimeter defender and will be matched up on Kobe often. He will be important for Dallas, as they like to run with small lineups from time to time.
During these times, he will need to be able to grab the rebounds. If he cannot secure the boards during these times, the Lakers will continue to get the same second-chance opportunities that eventually doomed New Orleans.
Just because Kidd isn't as quick as Chris Paul doesn't mean that he won't be effective in this series. He is a battle-tested player who is savvy and sets up his teammates like no one else. He runs the Mavericks fast breaks very well, and has developed an outside game that allows him to hit the open three very consistently.
This being said, this matchup is much more favorable for Derek Fisher, as he likes to play a more physical, body-up defense. Playing opposite of Kidd will allow Fisher to play this style of defense, as opposed to following Chris Paul around the entire court.
The Mavericks Zone
Many think that because the Mavericks run a zone, the Lakers triangle offense will be rendered useless. Think again.
The fabulous thing about the triangle is that it can be run against any defense, due to the ever-evolving nature of the offense. Los Angeles just has to make sure they set the picks on the right player of the zone to open up spots and look for cutters more often.
Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood will be huge factors down low and will put up a much better fight against Bynum and Gasol than the Hornets did.
Another thing to think about is rebounding; rebounding out of a zone can prove very challenging, because you're not always matched up with a player on defense, so you don't have anyone to put a body on. If the Mavericks are the least bit lazy, it will allow the Lakers to wreak havoc on the offensive boards.
There are so many more things that I could talk about, but it's hard to cover everything. At this point, we just have to wait and see what happens—and lucky for us, Game 1 tips off tonight.
Check out my breakdown of the entire second round of the NBA Playoffs here.
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