We’re going to witness a bit of history tonight.
Both Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are top-10 scorers ever. It will be the first time in years that two top-10 players share the floor. Combined, the two have amassed nearly 60,000 points. Just insane.
There’s much more to tonight’s game, though, than just the historical placement of two megastars. The Mavericks have surged out to a 9-3 start behind an all-time-good offense while the Lakers sit at 3-9 in the beginning of their season. LA did, however, just beat Houston on the Rockets’ home floor on Wednesday night. That’s just another example of why win/loss records really do not matter in the NBA. If you don’t show up to play, a team is going to beat you — especially if that team has Kobe Bryant.
Nevertheless, if both teams play their best game, the Mavericks will win. Dallas just has so much depth, which makes it very difficult for any team to beat the Mavs. Even if a club is better than Dallas 1-3 or even 1-5, the Mavs will get you 6-13. That might be the difference tonight. Kobe is going to get his, but the Mavs — all of them — are going to get theirs.
|Mavs Offense||Lakers Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||114.9 (1)||113.4 (30)|
|eFG%||54.0 (2)||54.8 (29)|
|TOV%||11.7 (3)||14.9 (17)|
|Off/Def Reb%||25.5 (15)||73.4 (20)|
|FT/FGA||.259 (22)||.355 (T-29)|
On paper, at least, this is a juicy matchup for the Mavs. The Lakers’ defense has struggled during the opening stretch of the season, allowing a league-worst 113.4 points per 100 possessions. As Rick Carlisle has reinforced for the past couple seasons, an offense isn’t going to get you anywhere unless the defense steps up, too. That’s been LA’s problem in November; the offense can score, but the defense has struggled to get consistent stops. Every Mavs starter, to a man, has the upper hand in this offense/defense matchup.
Dallas is going to be able to score inside. The Lakers allow opponents to shoot 57.4 percent at the rim this season, per SportVU, 28th-best in the league. The Timberwolves are one of the two teams behind the Lakers, and the Mavericks were able to score a franchise-record 76 points in the paint against Minnesota.
Dallas is going to be able to knock down threes. Opponents are shooting 40.7 percent from deep against LA this season, 28th-best in the league. The Mavs sit just ahead of the Lakers in 27th place, but we’ll get to that in a second. Opponents also hit 10.0 treys per game against the Lakers, but that number is inflated because LA has already played Houston twice, and the Rockets attempt an absurd 33.3 threes per game. The Mavs average 9.2 3PM a night.
Probably the most intriguing one-on-one battle to watch will be Dirk against backup power forward Ed Davis. Davis is built similar to Brandan Wright only he has a few more pounds on his 6′ 10″ frame. He’s very long and very athletic, and he has the best defensive rating (111) on the team. He plays 23.1 minutes per game, so odds are he’ll get plenty of run against Nowitzki.
|Mavs Defense||Lakers Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||102.3 (11)||104.4 (15)|
|eFG%||51.2 (T-21)||46.9 (26)|
|TOV%||19.0 (1)||13.1 (4)|
|Off/Def Reb%||71.6 (29)||29.1 (4)|
|FT/FGA||.274 (13)||.339 (5)|
The game is going to be much more balanced on the other end, at least on paper. The Lakers’ Jordan Hill is a monster on the offensive boards, grabbing 4.7 per game. Both Davis and Carlos Boozer each secure more than two per game themselves. Dallas has struggled to consistently clean the glass on defense, so Hill and the others have what it takes to make the Mavs pay if they don’t get a body on a body underneath.
What happens after the shot is unpredictable, but we can predict with some certainty who will be taking a majority of the shots. Kobe’s usage rate of 37.8 percent is the second-highest of his career — the only season higher came in 2005-06, when he scored 35.4 points per game. This season, Bryant’s scoring has dropped to 27.5 points on 24.2 FGA per game, and he’s converting at a career-low 38.6 percent rate. Defenses are keying in on him, often sending two or even three defenders at him to force a tough shot.
Nick Young is the only other Laker who attempts more than 12 field goals per game, and he just recently returned from injury. “Swaggy P,” as he’s known, is a dynamic scorer off the bench and isn’t afraid to let ’em fly from deep. He scored a career-high 17.9 points per game last season and attempted 5.5 threes per game.
The Lakers as a whole, though, rarely shoot threes. LA attempts just 16.5 of them per game, fifth-fewest in the NBA. New coach Byron Scott has made a concerted effort to minimize the team’s three-point attempts in favor of focusing on two-point shots in the mid-range — Kobe’s sweet spot. As a result, only the Kings knock down fewer treys per game than the Lakers.
That plays to the Mavs’ strengths, as Dallas concedes the second-most threes per game by opponents in the NBA. I wouldn’t expect LA to take more threes because of it, but it’s something to keep an eye on. And as Young becomes more acclimated within the offense, their three-point numbers will likely go up.
No matter how you slice it, Dallas has the upper hand in this one. The Mavs’ offense is going to continue to hum as it has all season, so it just comes down to whether or not Dallas can hold Bryant down. It will be interesting to see whether the Mavs relentlessly double-team Kobe or if they let him get his while they focus instead on limiting the players around him. Heck, Carlisle might give him alternating looks throughout the game to keep the offense guessing. Either way, he’s going to score somewhere around 30 almost no matter what. If the Mavs continue their strictly business approach, Dallas should walk out of this one with a win.
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