Why The Mavericks Can Beat The Lakers

The Mavericks became the second straight team this year to defeat the Lakers in Los Angeles in the first game of a series.  The Lakers found themselves down 1-0 to the Hornets in Round 1, but came back to win the series 4-2.  However, in the highly anticipated conference semis matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, a Game 1 victory for the road team is much more significant.  In looking at some of the numbers, Dallas has some distinct advantages over the Lakers that may surprise many fans.  Game 2 tonight in Los Angeles is perhaps the most pivotal game of the Playoffs thus far.  A win for the Mavs puts them up 2-0 going to Dallas and the Lakers with one foot in the “Gone Fishin” boat.  Judging by the numbers of Game 1 and some of the matchups, it may very well happen.  Let’s go inside some of the numbers to see where Dallas has the advantage. 

Kobe Bryant*Dallas Excels In The Clutch
-What decided Game 1, surprisingly, was a lack of clutchability from Kobe and the Lakers.  After Kobe nailed a shot that put the Lakers up 3 with a minute left, Dirk Nowitzki made a jumper to pull the lead back to a point.  Then, the Lakers fell apart.  Bryant turned the ball over with 20 seconds left.  From the ensuing inbounds, Phil Jackson and the Lakers seemed utterly confused with who needed to be on the court and then Pau Gasol committed a jaw-dropping dumb foul on Nowitzki, which led to the Mavs taking the lead on two Dirk FTs.  Kobe then fell down on the next trip with only a few seconds left.  Finally, Bryant missed a great look at a three that would have won the game.  Inside the last minute, the Lakers had 2 TOs, 3 fouls, and Kobe was 1-2 from the field.  Conversely, Dallas had 2 steals, 1-1 FG, and 3-4 from the stripe.  To the untrained eye, it seemed shocking that the Lakers would fall apart in the clutch versus Dirk and the Mavs.

But, according to 82games.com, the Dallas crunch-time lineup of Nowitzki, Kidd, Terry, Marion, and Chandler is by far the best in the league.  In the clutch (<5 min left, and a 5 point game), those 5 Mavs players rank 2-6 in +/- ratings (somehow Mo Williams is #1, who knew).  The five are a combined +184 in the clutch this season!!  On the other hand, the Lakers clutch five of Bryant, Fisher, Artest, Odom, and Gasol are each well down the list at a combined +83 for the season.  Actually, even though Kobe Bryant is the top clutch scorer, his +/- puts him with the likes of JJ Redick and Tyrus Thomas.  Ouch.  In fact, Dirk is a 45.8% shooter in clutch situations while Kobe is down at 40.2%.  While Kobe has scored more points during the clutch, Dirk and the entire Dallas lineup has been much more effective.  It showed in Game 1, where the Mavs outscored the Lakers 25-16 in the 4th quarter and dominated the last minute.

*Superior Outside Shooting
-The other key for Dallas in Game 1 was the superiority of their outside shooting.  Outside the painted area (H/T Hubie Brown), the Mavericks outshot the Lakers by a wide margin.

Dallas mid-range: 12/25
Lakers mid-range: 8/22
Dallas 3 PT: 9/20
Lakers 3 PT: 5/19

Dallas was +20 from those areas of the floor and successfully was able to counter LA’s advantage inside and at the free throw line.  In the Playoffs, Dallas is 2nd amongst remaining teams in three pointers made and 3PT%.  Los Angeles ranks 7th in 3PTM and 6th in 3PT%.  The mid-range game is also key, and that’s where Dirk Nowitzki shines.  Dirk was 8-14 in the mid-range game in Game 1 and is a 53% shooter on the season.  Dirk shoots more shots from the mid-range area (56%) than every other area on the floor combined.  So far in the Playoffs, Dallas as a team has a 46-35 edge over the Lakers in field goal percentage from mid-range with the league average for the season at 40%.

*A Better Bench
-Here’s another area where Dallas had a distinct advantage in Game 1.  The Mavs bench outscored the Lakers 40-25.  Both teams have bench players that are basically starters, Jason Terry and Lamar Odom.  They cancelled each other out in Game 1 with 15 points a piece, but it was the rest of the Dallas bench that really shined.  Peja, Brewer, Berea, and Haywood were 10-19 from the field and a +31 combined.  In only 8 minutes, Brewer (think the Knicks could have used him) was +11 and filled the stat sheet.  The only negative for the Mavs bench was that Brian Cardinal didn’t get in!  We want The Custodian!!  On the season, Dallas’ bench has a 40.0-27.9 PPG advantage over the Lakers.  In fact, according to HoopStats, the Mavericks have the best bench in the NBA this season.

*Frontcourt Defense
-The one thing that separates the Lakers from their opposition is (besides Kobe Bryant) their length in the frontcourt.  The trio of Gasol, Bynum, and Odom gives opposition a lot of trouble.  In fact, the Lakers frontcourt ranked tops in the league in defensive efficiency.  However, the matchup against Chandler, Nowitzki, and Marion represents a unique challenge.  The three have the length to counteract the Lakers’ impressive frontline, and each brings a unique skill set to give the Lakers bigs problems.  In fact, according to ESPN, Nowitzki was a combined 10-16 against Gasol and Odom and only 1-6 against all other Lakers.  As far as Andrew Bynum goes, the Lakers center was by far the least efficient Laker on the court at a -16 in Game 1.  Dallas’ outside shooting really opened up with Bynum on the floor in Game 1.  The Mavs were 8/13 from three with Bynum on the floor and 1/7 with Bynum off the floor.  Therefore, what conventional wisdom says is a huge plus for the Lakers may turn into their downfall against the Mavericks.  

Through these numbers, it’s clear to see that the Mavericks represent a strong matchup problem for the Lakers.  Of course, Los Angeles has the experience and skill to come through in the end, but don’t discount the Mavs’ chances to cause an upset.  If Dallas can keep up its clutch performances and exploit their unique outside-inside capabilities, they may very well find themselves a step closer to the title and halt the Lakers threepeat.