Trending toward Mavs

The last time we saw the Los Angeles Lakers in Dallas, it resulted in what looks like a sizable shift in the Laker franchise’s direction.

The date was May 8, 2011, and it was Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers entered the playoffs as the huge favorites in the West to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but they were pushed by the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul in the first round. Still, not many gave the Mavericks much of a chance in the semis.

By now we all know what happened, as the Mavs finished their stunning sweep on that May 8 afternoon, a 122-86 embarrassment, sending Lakers coach Phil Jackson off to Montana (or wherever the Zen Master is nowadays). It was the largest margin of victory in a game that ended a four-game playoff sweep in NBA history. Dallas would go on to upset the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, while the Lakers started asking questions that still haven’t been answered this season.

L.A. knew it needed to get some offseason help to get through the West and figured it had the answer in landing Chris Paul – for about 30 minutes until NBA Commissioner David Stern put the kibosh on the deal. Then the Lakers shockingly traded star sixth man Lamar Odom to these Mavericks for essentially a trade exception, something the team still hasn’t used. Clearly the Lakers (19-13) remain flawed, and this week Kobe Bryant vented about whether the team would trade Pau Gasol or not (he was in the Paul three-way trade). Kobe’s point: either do something now or say Gasol is staying put.

This is the start of an incredibly tough back-to-back as L.A. visits Oklahoma City on Thursday night in the teams’ last game before the all-star break. Think there will be any Dwight Howard- to-L.A. rumors at All-Star Weekend in Orlando? This is the Mavs’ final game before the break.

How the Teams Enter

L.A. enters off one of its most impressive games of the season, beating Portland, 103-92, at Staples Center on Monday. The game wasn’t remotely that close. The Blazers took a 3-0 lead and then all the Lakers did was go on a 37-4 run. One night after giving up a season-high 63 points in the first half of a loss at Phoenix, the Lakers yielded a season-low 30 to Portland. Bryant had 28 points to lead the Lakers. It was only the fifth time this season the Lakers reached triple digits in points.

Dallas (21-12), which had a six-game winning streak stopped Sunday in New York, had little trouble with visiting Boston on Monday night, winning 89-73 to improve to 13-5 at home. Dirk Nowitzki, as usual, led Dallas with 26 points and a season-high 16 boards, while Boston was playing without suspended point guard Rajon Rondo and injured Kevin Garnett. Since getting a four-game break to strengthen his sore right knee and improve his game conditioning, Nowitzki is averaging 21.7 points the last 13 games. The Mavs are 9-4 in that stretch.

Betting Story Lines

Kobe says he thinks the trade rumors are affecting Gasol’s game, but the Spaniard has 10 straight double-doubles – his longest streak as a Laker — after putting up 16 points and 12 boards against the Blazers. GM Mitch Kupchak wouldn’t commit to talking Gasol’s name out of trade talks with the standard “I will do whatever makes the team better” cliché. The Lakers held a players-only meeting after Monday’s win to stress togetherness in the wake of Bryant’s public outburst and some complaining about Coach Mike Brown’s practice schedule — the players were not happy that after beating Phoenix at home Friday night and flying to Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, they had to get up for a 10 a.m. shootaround Sunday morning (and went on to lose that night’s game handily).

Dallas has found some guard help off the bench in Dominque Jones. He had seven points, five assists and one turnover in 25 minutes against Boston. And perhaps more importantly he played well enough that starter Jason Kidd spent the last 15 minutes on the bench.

The Mavs are carefully monitoring Kidd’s minutes, which has become especially vital with backup point guard Delonte West out 3-5 weeks with a fractured ring finger and fellow guard Rodrigue Beaubois having missed the last three games because of his father’s death. He won’t play tonight and reportedly is on the trade market. The 38-year-old Kidd already has missed 10 games this year. The Mavs’ bench has been a problem otherwise of late. In the past two games, Vince Carter has averaged 6.5 points on 31.2 percent shooting and grabbed only four rebounds in 53 minutes. And Odom, a huge disappointment, is 3-for-14 from the field (0-for-9 from long

range) in the past two games for six points.

The Lakers and Mavs played one of the season’s ugliest games in L.A. back on Jan. 16, a Lakers 73-70 victory with L.A. a 3.5-point favorite. Derek Fisher hit a tiebreaking three-pointer with 3.1 seconds to play, while the Mavs’ Carter missed a tying three-pointer at the buzzer. Kobe entered that game having scored at least 40 points in four in a row but was held to 14. Bryant was 0-for-10 from the field when guarded by Shawn Marion. Dirk had 21 but a crucial turnover late. The Mavs shot 35 percent from the field and the Lakers 38.2. They were a combined 5-for-36 from three-point range, with the Lakers’ lone three-point of the night being Fisher’s.

The Lakers were 1-1 in Big D during last regular season before losing both playoff games.

Betting Odds and Key Trends

The Mavericks opened as 4.5-point favorites with the total at 179.5 on NBA odds. L.A. is 15-17 ATS overall and 4-12 ATS on road. Dallas is 20-13 ATS overall and 11-7 at home. ‘Over/under’ records: LAL 14-17-1, DAL 13-20.

The Lakers are 1-6 ATS in past seven on the road. The Mavs are 12-3 ATS in their past 15 at home vs. teams with losing road record. The over is 4-1 in Lakers’ past five. The under is 4-1 in Mavs’ past five. The Lakers are 0-5 ATS in past five meetings and 1-4 ATS in past five in Big D.

Predictions

The Mavericks know they have nearly a week off after this one so they can go all out, while the Lakers have to travel to Oklahoma City right after this one. I have no reason to trust the Lakers when they are 5-12 on the road. Take the Mavs and lay the 4 1/2 points.

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