1/05/2005 03:02:00 PM|||Kurt|||There’s no way to talk about tonight without first mentioning the debacle last night — that was maybe the worst Laker performance of the season. It was the kind of effort that won’t beat the New Orleans Hornets, let alone San Antonio or a hot Dallas team. Last night was a clinic in how to exploit the much-discussed Laker weaknesses this season of three-point shot selection and perimeter defense. The Lakers took just 14 three-pointers, and each time they did there was a hand in their face. They made just two. The Spurs took an uncharacteristic 30 from beyond the arc, but they were wide open shots — get the ball, plant your feet, take a good look then shoot open — and they hit 15 of them. They finished with an eFG% of 55.2%. The Spurs got many of their threes because a point guard penetrated into the lane and dished out to a wide-open man — and the Lakers stood and watched him shoot. The really hard part of that loss to swallow is that Tony Parker only had 2 points. Tim Duncan only had 12. They didn’t need to score because the Spurs are a team — and a deep one at that. One that plays great defense. Why all this concerns me going into tonight is that the Mavericks are no longer the NBA equivalent of Grinnell College — they play defense now, too. Good defense. What that defense has led to is a hot Dallas squad that has won three in a row, seven of their last nine. The Mavericks allow just 97.9 points per 100 possessions, the fifth best total in the league. They do it by limiting other teams to an eFG% of 46.1%. On the other side of the ball their offense is good — scoring 104.1 per 100 possessions — but not the juggernaut it was in seasons past. They still like to run — the Mavericks take 44% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, and when they do their eFG% is 51.8%. The Lakers need to get back and play transition defense tonight — the longer you make Dallas hold on to the ball, the more their shooting percentage drops. Obviously Dirk Nowitzki is the center of the offense — his PER of 28.01 is fourth best in the league and he is averaging 26.7 points per game, third best in the league (Kobe is second with 28.5, Iverson has the lead at 29.1). But Dallas is much deeper than that — they’ve been getting great performances from Jason Terry (18.54 PER), Michael Finley (18.20 PER) as well as from Jerry Stackhouse and others. Tonight, the Lamar Odom/Nowitzki match up may be the most fun to watch. Odom has to watch his fouls — he’s not been getting a ton of respect from the refs so far this season and he certainly won’t get calls against Nowitzki. But, if he can make Nowitzki work on the defensive end of the floor — not something Dirk likes to do — it could slow the Mavericks' best player down. Kobe should bounce back from his 17-point, 31.3% eFG night; Rudy T. gave him the fourth quarter off in San Antonio so he is rested. The good news for Kobe is that Bruce Bowen isn’t in his face (expect Josh Howard to lead a number of Mavericks who will spend time on Kobe) and the Maverick’s have been average defending the shooting guard position this season. The only place teams score at an above-average pace against Dallas is at center, and Mihm has bettered what I expected from him at every turn this season, so maybe this can be a big night from him. There’s going to need to be a big night from a lot of Lakers if they are to pick up a win tonight. A mature team can shake off a performance like last night and move on — I’m not sure what this Laker team will do. You can go broke betting on an inconsistent team, and the Lakers are problably leading a few people to the poor house this season. |||110496612611811439|||On Tap: The Dallas Mavericks