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Lakers-Mavericks is the rivalry that wasn't

MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

The Lakers and Mavericks, whose encounters in recent years have consisted primarily of Phil Jackson and Mark Cuban trading barbs in the media, will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1988.

May 01, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • The Dallas Mavericks will often finish a game with (from left) power forward Dirk Nowitzki, reserve guard Jason Terry, point guard Jason Kidd, small forward Shawn Marion and center Tyson Chandler, providing a powerful combination of size, athleticism and offensive firepower.
The Dallas Mavericks will often finish a game with (from left) power forward… (Mike Stone / Reuters )

Now, introducing the Lakers' newest archrival …

The Dallas Mavericks?

If you can't recall the rivalry's great moments, you'd have to be 23 to have been alive for the last one.

That was the teams' last playoff meeting … in the 1988 Western Conference finals.

It took the Lakers seven games to beat the Mavericks, not that it was like playing the Celtics.

The Mavericks' Mark Aguirre kept going to the Lakers' locker room after games to see Magic Johnson, until Coach Pat Riley had him barred.

The Dallas owner was kindly Don Carter, who wore his cowboy hat sitting courtside, may have even slept in it and helped build a championship team, just in the wrong city.

Before the 1986 draft, the Lakers, who had just lost to Houston's Twin Towers — Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson — agreed to trade James Worthy for Aguirre and rising 7-footer Roy Tarpley.

Owner Jerry Buss pulled the trigger, personally, assuming General Manager Jerry West would be OK with it.

When West wasn't, and in a big way, Buss asked Carter to let him out of the deal, saying he might lose his GM.

Carter, whose duty — to tell his secretary to say he was unavailable forever — was clear, instead said no problem.

Otherwise, there goes Showtime with the Lakers and Celtics tied at three titles each in the '80s.

The Lakers went on to win two more in 1987 and 1988.

Aguirre's career cratered. Tarpley's was truncated by drug problems.

The Mavericks imploded with Carter, who was followed as owner by the even less successful Ross Perot Jr., the son of the maverick politician. Perot sold the team to Mark Cuban in 2000.

Cuban rebuilt the team with coach Don Nelson and went to the 2006 Finals with Avery Johnson. The Mavericks were up, 2-0, with a 13-point lead in the last 6 minutes 33 seconds of Game 3 before losing in six games to the Miami Heat.

Having failed to get past the second round since, they're still in contention under Rick Carlisle.

What Cuban lacks in opportunity, he makes up for in determination, with the NBA's deepest team and No. 2 payroll at $90.7 million, just behind the No. 1 Lakers' $91.6 million.

What he lacks in titles, he makes up in attitude.

If Phil Jackson bedevils the rest of the league, which takes his zingers seriously, Cuban delights in going after Jackson, whom he has called "Jeanie's boy toy" and "my bucket boy."

And that's just during the last two trips to town.

Of course, if you're the Lakers, Celtics or from New York, all you have to do to be hated is field a team.

In the Lakers' case, they'll even let it become a real rivalry so you can live your dream.

It took until Game 6 of the last series to finally get into it, making the New Orleans Hornets roadkill as they should have been all along without David West.

What began as a lark for the Hornets became a crusade in earnest.

Coach Monty Williams, who admitted to being "pleasantly surprised" at winning Game 1, was complaining that the referees let his players get beaten up in the pivotal Game 5, growling at reporters, "You saw it."

If it came as a relief after five games of Williams' "brave and courageous" speech, Cuban isn't likely to go five games before saying something quotable.

Whether this is good news for the Lakers, awakening them early, or not, since the Mavericks aren't the Celtics, Heat or Bulls and this isn't Boston, Miami, Chicago or even Dallas, now they can try picking on someone their size.

If no one can match the length and skill level of 7-0 Andrew Bynum, 7-0 Pau Gasol and 6-10 Lamar Odom, the Mavericks have 7-1 Tyson Chandler, 7-0 Dirk Nowitzki and 7-0 Brendan Haywood.

There also are a lot of them. Against Portland, two reserves averaged double figures off the bench (Jason Terry with 17.3 points per game and Shawn Marion with 10.5) and Peja Stojakovic averaged 9.5.

The Mavericks' bench averaged 47 points to the Lakers reserves' 26 against the Hornets.

As far as intangibles, well, maybe the Lakers can match the Mavericks' enthusiasm.

If this rivalry has been a long time coming, at least one of the teams will be psyched.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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