Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives the baseline against Mavericks point guard… (Mike Stone / Reuters )
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher keep moving along, and both played well on defense and offense in the first-round series against the New Orleans Hornets. They bring a wealth of playoff experience. Bryant still is dealing with an injured left ankle. Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson started for the Mavericks in the first round against the Portland Trail Blazers, but Jason Terry played more minutes (33.2 per game) than Stevenson and is the team's second-leading scorer (17.3 points per game) in the playoffs. Kidd averaged 6.5 assists per game in the first-round series.
Pau Gasol and Ron Artest will have their hands full with Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. Gasol got off to a slow start in the first round but picked up his play as the series wore on, and Artest was solid. Nowitzki averaged 27.3 points in six playoff games against Portland and was third in the league in scoring in the first round. Marion, who runs the floor and is a good defender, will spend lots of time guarding Kobe Bryant.
Andrew Bynum was a beast for the Lakers in the first round. He was second on the team in scoring (15.2), first in rebounds (10.3) and shot 55.6% from the field. Dallas' Tyson Chandler averaged 6.5 points and 9.5 rebounds against Portland, including a 20-rebound effort in Game 5. Bynum has played an all-around game in the playoffs. Chandler is a good defender and rebounder.
The Lakers' reserves, led by Lamar Odom, are improving as the playoffs progress. Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have been solid. But with Terry leading the way, the Mavericks are deep as well, bringing in 7-foot center Brendan Haywood, guard Jose Barea and forward Peja Stojakovic.
The Lakers are averaging 96.5 points per game in the playoffs and the Mavericks are averaging 93.3. The Lakers run the triangle offense, and they are at their best when they go inside-out. The Mavericks run a lot of pick-and-roll plays. Jason Kidd runs the show, but Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the primary players involved in the schemes.
The Lakers gave up 89.3 points per game against the Hornets in the first round, fifth best among the participating teams. The Mavericks gave up 88.2 points per game against the Trail Blazers, third best in the first round. The Lakers averaged 40.8 rebounds against the Hornets, consistently pounding them inside for offensive rebounds. The Mavericks averaged 39.7 rebounds in their first-round series.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and his staff are among the best in the game. Jackson has won an NBA-best 11 championships as a coach and has said this is his last season. Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle also is very good.
My pick – Lakers in six