NBA Top Match-Up: Dallas Mavericks Host Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers (19-13, 5-11 away) may still be playing like a playoff contender at home, but it’s been a different story away from Staples Center this year, and tonight against the surging Dallas Mavericks (21-12, 13-5 home) they’ll have to find a way to improve their team scoring efforts if they are to overcome one of the stingiest defenses in the NBA.

The Lakers were able to defeat the Mavericks in the first meeting between the two teams this season, a 73-70 win at Staples Center on January 16th, but away from the comforts of home Los Angeles simply has to find a way to get their best players to mesh together and produce consistently for 4 quarters against a Dallas team that is much more competitive and balanced than they were a month ago. The Lakers’ struggles have been well documented on the road this year, where they have just two wins against teams with records currently above .500 on the season, but interestingly enough both those road wins against better teams have come in the month of February. That said, the Lakers are still 3-4 on the road in the last month, and their inability to score has been the key issue. At home, Los Angeles is averaging 96 points per game, which isn’t great (19th in the NBA) but their defense has been making up for it by holding teams to 91.1 points/game overall. On the road however, the Lakers move below their defenses’ scoring average, accumulating just 90.6 points per contest. Further, in the last 7 road losses for the Lakers, they have averaged only 86.8 points, and that is where their troubles have really shown up. Moreso than ever Kobe Bryant is being asked too much of his teammates by having to carry the scoring load, while the Lakers bench has struggled to have any effect whatsoever. In order to find a way to win on the road against a deep Mavericks team, LA simply has to distribute the scoring in a more balanced capacity, taking some of the weight off of Kobe tonight.

While Kobe Bryant (29.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists) has been at his best form in years, he’s been unable especially on the road to make up for the lack of the Lakers bench contributions, which are dead last in the league at 21.5 points/game. Ironically enough, the departure of Lamar Odom to Dallas, the former Lakers’ Sixth Man of the Year, has been one of the biggest holes created in the Los Angeles lineup. While Odom certainly hasn’t been the same player in Dallas (averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds this year vs. 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds last year), his absence from the Lakers is more than notable, and no doubt Los Angeles’ bench will miss having him on their side in tonight’s contest. For the Lakers, almost everyone’s scoring averages are down this year, despite Kobe’s being markedly higher. Just 3 players (Bryan, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum) are scoring in double figures, and just 5 players are scoring more than 7 points per game. Ron Artest has probably been the biggest disappointment on the season, with his scoring production down to 4.8 ppg from 8.5 last year, becoming almost a non-entity night after night. He’s arguably hurting the team more by being on the court this season, as he’s shooting a team low %33.1 from the floor, and takes the 3rd most 3-pt attempts (2.1/game), of which he’s hitting just %20. However, there has been few players able to step up and play better in his place, as Troy Murphy (4.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg) isn’t an answer, and Matt Barnes (7.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg), while playing average ball, isn’t anywhere near the talent level of the departed Odom. Thus, without consistency in scoring from those not named Bryant, Gasol or Bynum, the Lakers will continue to struggle to produce enough points against good defenses and/or good offenses, with the evidence most profound on the road where the weaker players are less comfortable.

The Mavericks can’t really be said to have any of the same problems with their team right now, as they’ve won 4 straight games at home, and have played excellent defense during that stretch holding their opponents to under 39 percent shooting and under 86 points per game. In fact, in the 14 games played in which Dallas has held opponents to 90 points or less, they are 13-1, with the 1 loss coming against Los Angeles back in January. Dallas will likely look once again to lock down Kobe Bryant, as it’s been evident that he’s the key to any success the Lakers have on the road this year. Fortunately for the Mavs, they’ve been awfully stingy against him lately, holding the LA star to just 18.2 points per game over the last 5 visits to Dallas, and without the same level of support he’s had in years’ past, holding Kobe to under 20 points tonight may be one of the few keys on defense for the Mavericks to hone in on. That said, another important key for Dallas will be getting extra attention on Andrew Bynum (16.3 ppg, 12.8 rpg), who has a big rebounding presence for the Lakers and has been instrumental in LA ranking first in the NBA in rebounds/game (45.7). Along with Pau Gasol (10.7 rpg), if the Lakers are able to score plenty of points on put backs and control the offensive glass, they could still give the Mavericks trouble on their home court. Therefore, Dallas needs to find step-up defensive play in the rebounding game, getting good efforts from center Brendan Haywood (5.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Shawn Marion (12 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and their leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki (19.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg). The Mavericks, while not having any one or two dominant rebounders in their line-up, thrive on getting boards from everyone crashing to the hoop. Winning this battle tonight would certainly help to solidify their chances of victory in the 2nd meeting between these two teams this season.

Betting Lines for the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks at Betonline Sportsbook

Considering Los Angeles’ road record this season, the Lakers come into tonight’s match-up at American Airlines Arena as +170 underdogs on the money line while the hosting Dallas Mavericks sit as -190 favorites to win straight up.

Against the spread, the two teams with solid defenses sit 4 1/2 points apart, with the Lakers getting 4 1/2 points to play with as underdogs while the Mavs must overcome 4 1/2 points as favorites (both wagers getting -110 odds).

The over/under on total points tonight stands at 180 points. Considering Dallas’ recent home defensive form and the Lakers struggles to score more than 90 points in road games, this should be a very tricky over/under to contend with tonight.

Our Pick to Win:

The Mavericks enter tonight’s game winners of 7 of their last 8 games, and for tonight’s final game before the All-Star break, you can rest assured they’ll have all their players ready to go tonight before getting a 6-day hiatus from regular season action. Dallas plays awfully tough defense at home, and against the Lakers, limiting Kobe Bryant’s scoring abilities and holding their own in the rebounding game will be essential towards snagging a 5th straight home victory. For the Lakers on the other hand, they can’t expect to win without getting better play from their bench and/or from guys like Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes and Ron Artest (yup, Metta World Peace is still too stupid of a name for me to call him). While this should be a close game as undoubtedly the Lakers are playing better with wins in 4 of their last 6, their record against winning teams on the road holds me back from expecting them to win games like these against the hotter teams in the league. Though it should be close down to the wire again, and LA could be a good pick to pull within the 4 1/2 points against the spread, Dallas’ momentum and depth should be too much for the Lakers to overcome. Mavericks prevail at home 90-88.

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