Mavs-Lakers matchup full of recent history
Kobe For 40. Remember The Sweep. Lamar's Homecoming. Dallas' Defensive Difference.
Those were some of the central themes going into Monday's late-night MLK Day meeting between the Mavericks and the Lakers, and in the end, there were more "central themes" than there were points scored.
The Lakers had been bolstered by Kobe Bryant's four-game run of 40-plus points and here were trying to put behind them the fact that Dallas swept them in last spring's NBA playoffs on the way to the Mavs' first-ever title.
The Lakers didn't get 40 from Bryant; heck, for a time it seemed reaching 40 might be a challenge for both teams. But LA did achieve a modicum of vengeance in a game in which Laker-turned-Mav Lamar Odom was well-received and less passive and Dallas' terrific defensive streak continued but wasn't good enough.
Here's how those four storylines played out:
Kobe For 40: Bryant had been on a monumental tear. Coming into Monday, he hasn't scored less than 40 points in four straight outings. And for the month of January, he was averaging 35.6 points a game on 47-percent shooting. Dallas does not have at its disposal people like DeShawn Stevenson or Caron Butler, so would Shawn Marion and helpers be enough to contain him?
Mavs owner Mark Cuban's answer is "yes."
"Tough loss," Cuban tweeted after the game. "Will someone tell me why (Marion) isn't a perennial All-NBA first team? He doesn't get the respect he's earned."
Marion helped limit Bryant to 7-of-22 for 14 points. Additionally, Bryant was clearly a victim of Dallas' strategy to force him to put it on the floor. Whether it's his sore wrist or some other ailment, Bryant proved to be a sloppy ball-handler.
But he gets credit for one smartly unselfish movement of the ball.
On the Lakers' final offensive play, with nine seconds left, a Dallas double-team of Bryant (Shawn Marion getting help from Jason Terry) forced the ball from his hand and prevented him from finding an interior receiver. That's when he dropped off the ball for Fisher, who up until his game-winner had been 2-of-21 from the arc this season.
The double-team was right. The defensive rotation of Dirk Nowitzki onto the shooter was right. In a game in which somebody was eventually going to make a shot -- maybe -- LA made one big shot.
Remember The Sweep: Much has changed since last season's playoffs, when Dallas embarrassed the Lakers in a most ignominious 4-0 sweep. Coach Phil Jackson is gone from LA, replaced by Mike Brown. And the Lakers' attempts at blockbuster trades (attempts that eventually led to the departure of Odom) suggest that they know they are still too much like last year's failed squad.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks have made changes, too. But the positive memory lingers. So which team would gain fuel from the playoff result, proud failures Kobe, Bynum, Gasol, Fisher and the rest of Lakers? Or Dirk Nowitzki and the justifiably confident Mavs?
Fittingly, Fisher reportedly issues an "I remember"-themed speech before the game. The shot probably meant more than the speech. But Fisher gets credit for both.
Lamar's Homecoming: Odom has a heavy heart. He's dealt with death in the family and he's dealt with feeling unwanted by the Lakers and he's dealt with the culture shock of being a Maverick. On Monday he dealt with something else: His Lakers pals were his enemies.
Or at least they were supposed to be.
When Odom entered the game at his old Staples Center stomping ground, he received a standing ovation from the Lakers audience and from Bryant and Fisher and other ex-mates. He responded well to the playoff-like atmosphere as the NBA Sixth Man of the Year last season scored seven points in the first quarter (exceeding his season per-game average of 6.8 points on 31-percent shooting) and finished with 10 points and four rebounds while making just one of his last eight shots.
"It's surreal," he said of the homecoming scene.
The Mavs are patiently and optimistically waiting until reality sets in instead.
Dallas' Defensive Difference: Allow us to unveil a shockingly effective statistical change for Dallas: Entering this week, the Mavs are tied for first in the NBA with "points in the paint" allowed per game with 33.2. How astounding is that? Last year's championship team, anchored by the "irreplaceable" Tyson Chandler, allowed 41.6.
We know that coming in, the Mavs spanned 10 games while allowing just of 84.2 points per. Having allowed 73 here, that number shrinks to 83.1. LA (now 10-5) had some success inside (Andrew Bynum contributed 17 points and 15 rebounds). But the Dallas defense seems for real, with the Brendan Haywood/Ian Mahinmi tandem proving in general to be a combo that matches last year's Chandler/Haywood duo in terms of stats.
Dallas allowed just seven points to LA in the third quarter. Kobe was almost a non-factor. The Lakers busted free of matching their shot-clock-era franchise low of 70.
But Dallas (8-6) milked nothing from its offense. Dirk Nowitzki managed only 21 points on eight-for-21 shooting. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry combined to launch 19 shots and make just four of them. Dallas shot 35 percent, finding a way to slide in under LA's 38 percent.
Yes on the final play, one more chance. Vince Carter rose for a tying 3 that caromed off the back rim … and in a sequence that typified the struggles, when Vince returned to the floor, he sprained his left foot and had to be aided back to the locker room.
A night of storylines for both teams. And a night of frustration, too.