Even though the Lakers and Mavericks have been two of the more winning teams of the past decade (at least percentage wise), this is the first meeting between the Kobe Lakers and the Dirk Mavericks this century. Both teams have put up great regular seasons and long playoff runs, but have some how avoided each other until now. It figures that the two dark, post-Shaq years resulted in the longest runs for a Dirk led team.
Still, even without any battles in the spring in their recent history, there's still a good deal of bad blood between the two teams as well as some memorable moments (at least as memorable as regular season games go). In the past 10 years we've seen:
- Kobe's 62 thru three quarters in 2006. This game was controversial due to Phil's decision (which he said Kobe agreed with, and I believe him since Kobe basically subs himself in and out of games) to sit number 8 after outscoring the Mavs singlehandedly. Everyone wondered how much Kobe could actually score if left in the blowout. We got the answer a couple weeks later.
- Dirk scoring his 20k in a loss to the Lakers at home last January. This game was also notable for a limping Kobe hitting the game winner in an otherwise ugly performance
- The Shaq and Kobe Lakers storming back from a 27 point 4th quarter deficit on national tv at home vs the Mavs in 2003. Caught this one on ESPN classic not too long ago. I totally forgot about Devean George.
- This Shannon Brown putback
- The recent Matt Barnes vs. Jason Terry scrum followed shortly by Matt Barnes vs Terry Stotts.
That last one is indicative of the aforementioned bad blood that's surfaced recently between the two teams, mostly brought on by the back and forth smack talk between Phil and Mark Cuban. Early in the year, Jackson tweaked everyone's favorite billionaire man-child owner with a crack about Dallas not being all that great despite being the "best team money can buy", and how they would struggle without Caron Butler. Cuban came back as only he can, calling Phil Jeannie Buss's boy toy, and how glad he is that she lets him speak in public. As ridiculous as all that is, it added a little fire to the otherwise boring match-up. Things only got more heated in April, when Jason Terry got all gangsta on poor sickly Steve Blake, causing Matt Barnes to come to his rescue and eventually toss an assistant coach to the ground. Expect to see more hard fouls and harder looks over the next couple weeks.
As far as the basketball itself, I think the inaugural Dirk vs. Kobe series will be tightly contested but ultimately will end as so many of the past years have: the Lakers still playing and the Mavericks walking dejectedly to another summer.
The Big man matchups will be well publicized and Dallas probably presents the best defense for Bynum and Gasol, with Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, so expect whatever centers to stay out of foul trouble to win that battle.
Who defends Dirk is always an issue for any Dallas opponent. Pau might prevent some interesting cross match ups, but he can't keep up with the big German on the perimeter, and Artest can body him but is a good 5 inches shorter. Expect the Lakers to let Nowitzki get his (Jackson hates to double team as much as Kobe loves to dribble away from them) and keep their bodies on the Mavericks shooters and around the rim.
Kobe struggled mightily against Shawn Marion during the regular season, but I anticipate him finding a way around him during the playoffs if his ankle holds up.
This is also the only team left in the playoffs that actually employs a starting point guard older than Derek Fisher, which should be fun. Kidd has an edge over Fish, and Barrea can be an annoying pest out there, but at least Fisher won't have to worry about picking up early fouls chasing a quick guy like Westbrook around.
The Mavs have a slight edge here, especially if the Killer B's (Brown, Barnes and Blake) continue to play as lame as that nickname. Terry, Stojakovic, Haywood and Barrea (half of those guys are probably wondering why they're not starting) will be a handful for the Lakers second team. The sixth man of the year (who actually started almost half of his games) helps neutralize them a bit, but it's still in favor of Dallas
Rick Carlisle seems like a nice guy and all, and he's buddies with Larry Bird, but he's not close to Jackson's level. Expect Mark Cuban to get way more screen time than Rick.
There's no clear dominance at any position for either team but I think all in all, the Lakers experience is just too much for a relatively thin Mavericks roster.
This will be a tight series that i think will go the distance, and will probably give us what we've all been waiting for between these two teams.
Lakers in 7.