The Dallas Mavericks dominated the Los Angeles Lakers late Wednesday night to take a surprising 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven battle. There are a few compelling storylines in that game and in this series that are getting short shrift by the media in my view. Let's do a quick reality check...
DALLAS 93, LA LAKERS 81
2-point pct: Dallas 46%, Lakers 51%
3-pointers: Dallas 8/25, Lakers 2/20
Rebounds: Dallas 39, Lakers 44
1's and 2's: Dallas 69, Lakers 75
First, it's amazing that we see a final score like THAT after noting last week that Dallas had put together a "standardized" edge over Portland of 93-84 if you excluded that horrible fourth quarter in Game Four. They're still doing it! Dallas is still establishing an advantage and maintaining it for the most part. The exception was during that poor 29-8 run against them over eight-and-a-half minutes in Game One. They rectified that, and have an on-court edge now of 181-146 in the other 87.5 minutes.
In terms of flow, this is a replay of the Portland series...except Dallas is even more dominant once you adjust for these first two games being on the road.
Now, the stuff I think is getting short shrift:
*Kobe has an ankle injury just like Derrick Rose, and has stopped flying at the basket just like Rose has. It was gratifiying that many in the media picked up on the Rose story thanks to some numbers we posted. Now it's time for the meme to spread West. Joe Treutlein has been pounding this point home on his tweets. Let's flesh that out with some numbers.
KOBE'S SHOTS AT THE RIM
Game One: 0/0
Game Two: 0/1
That's one shot at the rim in two games! For KOBE BRYANT! This season, his per-game averages are 2.3/3.5...and he's known to be more aggressive if he has to when something important is on the line. Whether it's because of the ankle (and lingering knee issues), the Dallas defensive gameplan, or a mix, Kobe has stopped flying at the basket. This is a big deal.
KOBE'S SHOTS FROM 3-9 FEET
Game One: 1-3
Game Two: 0-0
He's not even getting inside the free throw line very often. Kobe's averages for the year over two games inside 10 feet are 7.6 makes on 13.2 shots. He's 1 of 4 in this series.
KOBE'S SHOTS FROM 10-15 FEET
Game One: 3-5
Game Two: 3-5
This is as close as Kobe is getting to the basket, either by choice or defensive schematic. He was 1.6 for 3.2 per game in the regular season. So, he's shooting more from this range, and with a better percentage thus far.
KOBE'S SHOTS FROM 16-23 FEET
Game One: 6-12
Game Two: 5-9
The Kobe Bryant experience in Round Two of the 2011 playoffs is shooting 16-23 footers on offense and scowling at his teammates on defense. A normal regular season game from Kobe would see 2.2 of 5.9 in this range. He's shooting more often, and very well.
KOBE'S SHOTS FROM BEHIND THE ARC
Game One: 4/9
Game Two: 1/5
He's normally 1.4 of 4.3 from treys in a game. He's shooting more from further away trying to make up for what he can't do on penetration. A stellar 44% in Game One (effective field goal percentage of 66%) helped keep the Lakers in the game. When he fell back to earth in Game Two, the Lakers fell way off the pace.
I don't follow the team closely enough during the regular season to know how much of their three-point shooting comes off of Kobe driving to the basket then kicking to an open shooter. That may or not be an issue here. We can say this. Nobody besides Kobe is making any treys!
REST OF TEAM BEHIND THE ARC
Game One: 1/10
Game Two: 1/15
If Kobe is shooting better than normal on his midrange jumpers, but the team as a whole isn't getting many open looks from behind the arc, then they lose out in the trade-off.
His lack of penetration also means he's getting to the free throw line less often.
KOBE'S FREE THROWS
Game One: 4/5
Game Two: 4/5
In the regular season, Kobe was 5.9 of 7.1 in the typical game from the charity striple. In big games, he tends to shoot more than that because he puts the game on his shoulders. He's not doing that right now obviously.
I don't want to suggest in any way that Kobe Bryant is playing horribly and losing this series for the Lakers. The evidence is pretty clear that his ankle is bothering him to a degree that he has to settle for jumpers rather than fly at the basket. HE'S MAKING A LOT OF JUMPERS! It's just that there may be a chain reaction disaster because the "other stuff" that happens when Kobe flies at the basket isn't part of the mix any more. Kobe has 49 shots and 3 assists.
*While the Lakers are struggling on three-pointers, Dallas is still making their 8-9 per game. They averaged 7.9 during the regular season. Their trey line in the playoffs is now 10-8-9-10-3-6-9-8. The median of that sequence is 8.5, and they've reached 8 in six of their eight outings. This is a big deal if the other team is clanking everythng off the rim!
Game One: Dallas 27, Lakers 15
Game Two: Dalas 24, Lakers 6
That's +12 in a game Dallas won by two, and +18 in a game they won by 12.
1's AND 2'S
Game One: Lakers 79, Dallas 69
Game Two: Lakers 75, Dallas 69
Would you have guessed that Game One matched Game Two inside the arc that closely? Various media took turns blasting Gasol, Odom, Artest, and Bynum for their poor play in Game Two. You probably saw footage of Jose Juan Barea running circles through the lane for Dallas. The Lakers still won inside the arc (even with plenty to be embarrassed about), but were dominated from long range.
*Dallas won the battle of benches again in Game Two. They shot poorly, but not as poorly as the Lakers' bench did.
DALLAS NON STARTERS' PLUS/MINUS IN GAME 2
(Combined shooting 11 of 35 for 31%)
LAKERS NON STARTERS' PLUS/MINUS IN GAME 2
(Combined shooting 6 of 23 for 26%)
The Dallas bench contributed 90 minutes to the cause, compared to just 69 minutes for the Lakers. Dallas is moving the chains with its bench and giving their starters rest. The Lakers bench was a burden to the team. We know from before the series that Dallas was looking to exploit their bench advantages.
*The last area that deserves more coverage in my view is the matchup of the Dallas quickness versus the Lakers stiffness. Now, it's not that everyone on the Mavericks is quick. But, the slow guys can shoot from spots, and the quick guys scoot and distribute. The Lakers defense has:
---Injured Kobe dealing with ankle and knee issues
---Injured Andrew Bynum dealing with knee issues
---Lumbering Lamar Odom
---Lumbering Pau Gasol
---36-year old Derek Fisher
Twenty-four seconds is usually enough time to spread everyone out and get a decent shot off. Dallas has multiple long range weapons, and guys who can scoot through open spaces if the Lakers stretch out to deal with the long range weapons. This isn't going away.
Now, the Lakers can and should improve how they deal with this challenge. Getting schooled by Barea during a critical point in the second half Wednesday was embarrassing. Have you ever seen that game they have at summer camps where a kid bends over and puts his head on the end of a baseball bat, spins around in circles, then straightens back up and tries to run a straight line? The kid careens out of control trying to get his bearings. That's the best description I can think of to describe the Lakers defense when Barea and Dirk Nowitzi were enjoying their pick-and-roll playground. The two closest defenders would wobble back and forth and bounce into each other like they were dizzy. If Barea made it past them to the the lane, a third Laker would careen in awkwardly from an odd angle too late to matter. (Well, Barea was running circles around them, maybe they were dizzy).
The mainstream media often focuses too much on heroes and goats when trying to explain a result or a series. After Game Two, The Dallas Morning News referred to Dirk as "a beast," in an outing where he only had 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, and 0 blocked shots in 38 minutes on the floor (drops in all of those categories except minutes from Game One). Inspirational leader and sharpshooter... absolutely. Maybe in all caps. Dirk was a "beast?" The LA Times went after Gasol as their scapegoat, the player with the best plus/minus on the team at -1 in a 12-point loss (main Lakers Wednesday: Gasol -1, Fisher -4, Bynum -5, Kobe -8, Artest -9, Odom -18--and Gasol's the guy you want to go after? Gasol's at +8 for two games when the team is -14)
As we try to figure out what's going to happen in the rest of the series, you can focus on Dirk's beastliness and Gasol's alleged disappearance, or you can monitor:
*What the Lakers will try to do schematically about the spread out Dallas attack...
*What the Lakers can do to eliminate their significant three-point deficit...
*When (if at all) Kobe will be able to fly at the basket instead of settling for jumpers...
*When (if at all) the Lakers bench will be able to contribute...
If you're doling out credit to the Mavs, in addition to Dirk's strong play and leadership, please include:
*The seven different guys who have made treys...
*The X's and O's dynamic that has made it look like one team is playing chess while the other is playing checkers...
*The energy off the bench...
*The 6-2 overall team record vs. Portland and LA, which is arguably the most impressive postseason mark so far when you adjust for the four-four home/road split.
Miami 6-1 vs. Philly and Boston (5 home games in 7)
Oklahoma City 5-2 vs. Denver and Memphis (5 home games in 7)
Chicago 5-2 vs. Indiana and Atlanta (5 home games in 7)
No games Thursday night. Back late Friday night with more numbers and notes...