Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey was retired, the fans got their opportunity to chant, “We want Phil!” before the man himself, Kobe Bryant played all but 54 seconds of the game and the Dallas Mavericks channeled their inner ZZ Top (scary thought – is there anyone reading this who doesn’t know who ZZ Top is?!). The bottom line is: a lot happened at Staples Center tonight, especially between two teams who are fighting for a spot in the post-season.
Some vowing to grow their beards until their record hit .500 (Dallas was 36-37 before the game), the Mavs came in having won six of their last 10 games and currently sit at #10 in the Western Conference standings, right below the Lakers. They, as much as the home team, want their playoff chance, but the Lakers fought that much harder to keep them from gaining any ground tonight. Kobe and company did not fear the beards, and as a result came out with a 101-81 victory.
Kobe Bryant – Following his 47 minutes and 14 seconds of playing time against Sacramento just three days ago, Bryant thought he’d give that method for winning another shot and logged in 47 minutes and four seconds tonight. It’s not the most efficient way to preserve an older, albeit durable, body, but to be fair, that approach is 2-0 so far. The best thing to come from such heavy minutes – his production and the production he exorcises out of this team when he plays the all-around game that he did tonight. Yes, I just referred to Bryant as an exorcist, because he helps his teammates drive out their inner demons to get the best out of them. He not only scored 23 points in the game on a relatively respectable 8-18 from the field, he also grabbed 11 rebounds, handed out 11 assists, racked up four steals and blocked two shots. He sucked in Dallas’ defense like a vortex, and had his pick of one open teammate after another; Earl Clark for three, Pau Gasol for a dunk, Dwight Howard for a layup. And before checking out of the game, having played just over 46 minutes, scored on a running hook. #MambaVino
Double-Doubles Galore – Earl Clark, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all reached double-doubles, combining for 55 points and 34 rebounds. With Bryant playing the three in MWP’s place, the Lakers’ front court did a lot of work tonight.
Earl Clark – It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the phenom perform as well as he did in this game, but timing is everything and with Metta World Peace and Steve Nash sitting out, the team needed every bit of Clark’s 17 points on 7-14 (3-5 from downtown), 12 rebounds, a career-high five blocks, assist and steal. Most importantly, they needed his energy and hustle. Clark didn’t just stand around and wait for the ball to come to him. He was active. In one sequence, he scored on a layup, was fouled, missed the free throw, but received a pass from Gasol soon after and hit a three pointer. In the next possession, he ran after a loose ball and handed it to Antawn Jamison for a layup. He led the game with a +22.
Dwight Howard – If there were ever a game for Howard to avoid NOT producing, it would have been tonight when Shaq’s jersey was retired. Thankfully, Howard would not be swayed by such distractions. He continued, instead, to dominate like he knows how, to the tune of 24 points on 7-12 and 12 rebounds. And despite going just 3-8 from the free throw line in the first three quarters, he went 7-12 in the fourth, 6-8 during the Hack-a-Howard sequence. Howard has taken a lot of jabs from O’Neal, and now his #34 hanging at Staples Center will serve as a constant reminder of the dominant center that Shaq claims he was (and deservedly so), and that Howard is not and will probably never be. Or perhaps, D12 can use that as his own personal bulletin board material and prove Shaq wrong. But that’s speculation for another day.
Defense – The Lakers can play defense – who knew?! Well, they can when they commit to it and they surely did tonight. The most they gave up in a quarter was 21 points on 38% shooting in the first 12 minutes. The Mavs scored just 40 points in the first half on 44% from the field, and just 41 points in the second half on 40% shooting. Chris Kaman led the team with just 14 points and Dirk Howitzki had a tough night at the hands of the Laker frontline of Howard, Gasol and Clark. Dallas’ leader was held to just 11 points on 4-13 from the field and went just 2-6 from the free throw line. The Lakers also dominated the glass 57-37.
Paint Points – The Mavs’ inside game left with Tyson Chandler, and it was as obvious as ever in this game. It wasn’t even close as they were outscored 44-26 inside.
Antawn Jamison – Against his fellow Tar Heel, Vince Carter, it would’ve been nice to see Jamison compete, but it just wasn’t his night. He scored just four points on 2-7 from the field, and filled the rest of this stat line with donuts – zero rebounds, zero assists, zero everything. It’s hard to tell if his wrist bothered him or if it was just a bad game. Thankfully, Clark came off the bench to fill in the stat hole that Jamison left.
Turnovers – A game after making just seven miscues against the Kings, the Lakers racked up 18 turnovers which led to 16 Dallas points. They had seven in the first half, but in the fourth quarter alone, turned it over seven times. Steve Blake was responsible for three of those seven, which allowed Dallas’ scoring runs. Fortunately for the Lakers, their defense was able to get them through a few scoring droughts.
It’s not a great time to be in ninth place in the West, yet that is what the Lakers are faced with. Is it any surprise, though? With the season that they’ve had, is it really shocking that the Lakers reached the 8th seed and fell back down? It would be so unlike this season to provide a straight path for this team, but as they’ve shown all year, they’re not waving the white flag until it’s absolutely necessary, and with seven games left in the regular season – it ain’t over yet.