2011 NBA Playoffs: 7 Things the Lakers Need to Do to Stop Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki presents possibly the toughest matchup in the history of the NBA because of his incredible blend of size and touch from the outside. Never before Dirk had the NBA seen a 7 footer step out and hit a three or drive by slower big man, while still possessing the ability to post up on shorter players who try to negate his quickness.
In Game 1, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed ill-equipped to stay with Dirk and will have to make certain adjustments to continue their run for a three-peat.
Get More Production from Lamar Odom
For all of his strengths, Nowitzki has never been known as an great defender. He plays soft at times and does not have the lateral foot speed to stay with more athletic players on the defensive end.
Odom will be the likely matchup for Nowitzki when he is on the floor and needs to exploit Dirk's lack of defensive quickness. Odom played OK in Game 1, scoring 15 points on 5-10 shooting, but this year's Sixth Man of the Year needs to have a huge series in order for the Lakers to be successful in Round 2.
Making Dirk work on the defensive end is key because it could cause him to exert more energy which will leave less in the tank for him on offense.
Bench Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum may have had a monster first round series against a depleted New Orleans team, averaging over 14 points a game, but he cannot afford to be on the court with Pau Gasol against Dallas.
Because the Mavericks play a smaller and more athletic lineup, the Lakers are put at a disadvantage with Gasol and Bynum on the floor because neither of them can match up with Dirk's athleticism on the outside. Inserting Odom into the starting lineup and alternating Gasol and Bynum on the court will go a long way to Los Angeles advancing.
Nothing is more annoying when you are trying to get into an offensive rhythm than seeing the other team constantly changing defenders on you.
I'm sure that Dirk feels the same way and by alternating Odom, former Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest and Gasol on Nowitzki could mess up his offensive flow. Artest especially, who has great hands and does not fear physicality in the post, will be a thorn in Dirk's side if Phil Jackson gives him the OK to man up on Nowitzki. While Dirk may be used to this tactic at this point in his NBA career, few teams posses the defensive depth that the Lakers do and his effectiveness could be slowed with this strategy.
Double-Team Dirk and Force Role Players to Beat Them
Double-teaming in the NBA is a dangerous game. However, the Lakers are long enough and athletic enough to do it successfully, if they pick their spots. I can only foresee the Lakers doing this if it becomes apparent that the Mavericks bench is inept, but they need to trust the wily veteran Derek Fisher on Jason Kidd and Jose Barea.
The Lakers must get the ball out of Dirk's hands and send Kobe Bryant and young bench players like Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown at Nowitzki to force his teammates to beat them. If the Lakers play solid help side defense after they force the pass, Bryant and these young players will be able to rotate back to their men and contest shots. Dirk is not known as a great distributor and the Lakers need to use this to regain home court in this series.
This one is pretty self-explanatory.
Lakers fans everywhere must have been pulling their hair out when Pau Gasol decided to go for the steal with under a minute to play and blatantly hacked Dirk on the arm, sending him to the free-throw line. Nowitzki has been lights out from the charity stripe this postseason, shooting 89.7%, including a stellar 8-for-8 in the last few minutes of the Mavericks' series clinching Game 6 against the Trail Blazers in the first round.
The Lakers need to pick their battles, keep their hands up and force Dirk to shoot over the top of them because he is an assassin from the free-throw line.
Don't Take Their Foot Off the Gas
After Los Angeles got out to a 16-point lead in the third quarter of Game 1, it appeared that every Laker not named Kobe Bryant relaxed. They got sloppy with the ball, most notably with Pau Gasol's devastating botched handoff, and simply looked lethargic on both ends of the floor.
Bryant tried his best to put the Mavericks away by himself, but he couldn't guard Dirk Nowitzki and came up short at the end of the game. In the second half of Game 2, the Lakers need a more balanced offensive attack and a bigger commitment to defense, especially keying in on Dirk. The Lakers must realize that they are not the only team with a great closer in this series.